Self-monitoring: Should we just say what we think and feel?

Verbal Diarrhea – it’s a tendency that makes you want to cringe. People with this quirk will say whatever comes to mind, without thinking of the social consequences. They don’t feel the need to self-monitor or “police” what they say. “God gave me a mouth to speak,” expressed a low self-monitor to me, after an embarrassing exchange of words she had with a slow cashier (with me cringing and shaking my head). “I should be allowed to say whatever I want.” “He also gave you a brain to think things through,” I replied.

Low self-monitoring, for those guilty of it, may not always be about being oblivious in social situations. It’s about freedom of speech. Low self-monitors may see no reason to hold themselves back or sugar-coat the truth – to say anything other than what they’re thinking, and acting in ways that doesn’t reflect who they are is not something they like.

It’s important to point out here that I am not referring to self-monitoring as being fake. Self-monitoring is a social skill that involves reading people (body language) and using social cues (verbal and nonverbal) to interact with others tactfully. It’s not so much about sticking to idle chatter and safe topics like the weather. High self-monitors, in essence, reflect: “Is what I am going to say worth saying? How do I say it in a productive and tactful way?” High self-monitors are willing to speak the truth and tell it like it is – it’s the manner in which they do so that differentiates them from low self-monitors.

Queendom’s Self-Monitoring Test, with over 1500 test-takers, assessed three factors related to self-monitoring: Willingness/Ability to Alter Behavior, Sensitivity to Social Cues, and Emotional Management. Average scores on these scales were 65, 71, and 62 respectively (on a scale from 0 to 100). Overall, the average self-monitoring score was 67, indicating that people are generally aware of how they behave in social situations, but sometimes take a social misstep. Surprisingly, there were almost no differences between men and women, although the ladies were more sensitive to social cues (score of 72 for women, 69 for men).

The most noticeable factor that influenced the ability to self-monitor was age. Compared to those below the age of 17, older age groups (40+) were more willing to alter their behavior (score of 69 vs. 63), to be sensitive to social cues (score of 74 vs. 65), to manage their emotions (score of 67 vs. 58), and to be higher self-monitors overall (score of 71 vs. 64).

 Other interesting tidbits from Queendom’s Self-Monitoring Test:

  • 13% of test-takers admit that they don’t think before they speak.
  • 15% admit that they have been asked by friends or family to “be on their best behavior” before going to a social event.
  • 16% have been told that they are insensitive.

Self-monitoring takes skill…

  • 20% of test-takers said that they can easily make it seem like they are having a good time at a social event even when they are not.
  • 24% can appear calm even if they don’t feel that way.
  • 26% are able to be civil with someone whom they don’t like.

Self-monitoring is obviously easier said than done, so here are a few tips:

  • Take a timeout. It’s not easy to maintain your composure when you feel like your buttons are being pushed. Take as much time as you need to reach a state of mind conducive to the cool, rational consideration of the possible consequences of your actions. If you take a timeout, you will avoid succumbing to the impulse to snap at, laugh at, lash out at, be dismissive toward, or even be sarcastic with those around you.
  • Use the phrase, “I understand.” This phrase will support your goals if the tension is high and you need to find common ground to form compromises or agreements with another person.
  • Observe, and put a conscious effort into reading and understanding others.Pay attention to how people are reacting, and what they are communicating to you. Really listening and observing can teach you a lot about human interaction and emotions. The more attentive you are to others, the more information you have at your disposal to guide your expressive self-presentation. Here are some other tips to better understand the people around you:
    • Build meaningful relationships that teach you about human nature. Volunteer or join an online community.
    • If you’re not sure how someone is feeling, ask for clarification (if it’s appropriate). A simple “How are you feeling?” or “Could you explain your perspective to me?” might do the trick.
    • Put aside your own preoccupations to consider what might be going through other people’s minds in different situations. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were in their shoes.  
    • Put empathy in action. Get involved in helping the less fortunate in some way. The closer you get to a situation emotionally, the more you realize the difficulties others might be facing.
  • Mirror the other person’s style. Within reason, try to utilize similar facial expressions, posture and choice of words. This will put the other people at ease and will minimize the differences between you. For instance, if you are speaking with someone whose first language isn’t English, avoid using words that not even an English major would be able to follow.

Are you a low or high self-monitor? Share your comments below!

Join me for next week’s discussion on the pursuit of power!

Insightfully yours,

Queen D