Blunt honesty may not be the best policy

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In an earlier post, I talked about self-monitoring and the potential awkwardness (and ugliness) of verbal diarrhea. Think of someone who pretty much says whatever comes to mind, and makes you wish you can tear a hole in the time-space continuum and crawl in. I’ll give you a few examples that I’ve had the jaw-dropping displeasure of witnessing:

Family member: (At a restaurant) “You guys make the most disgusting coffee. Could it be any colder?”

Salesperson at a retail store: “I can find a good pair of jeans for you. But not your friend. She’s too fat.”

Family member: (After being introduced to someone at a party) “I remember you! You’re the woman with the husband that cheated on you with a younger woman.”

Ouch.

Needless to say, people who find out that I’m related to that particular family member usually tell me the same thing: “You’re related to _____? How is that possible? You’re so nice! And WHAT is _____’s problem?”

FYI – This post was inspired by an episode of Mr. Selfridge on PBS. Why? There’s something joyfully painful about watching period dramas set in the early 1900’s. People never really came out and said what they really wanted to say, and when they did, it was still done with the utmost tact possible. By comparison, try perusing Twitter posts these days: the drawing of social lines in the sand has become a thing of the past. So how has this affected every day social interaction? Are people who say whatever they want glorified for their bold honesty? Not quite, according to our latest research.

We assessed data from 1,665 people using our Self-Control and Self-Monitoring Test . Our statistics reveal that people who do not self-monitor (purposely regulate their words or actions in social situations) are slightly less popular among their social group than those who do (65 vs. 68). They are also less sensitive to social cues (68 vs. 74), have more difficulty understanding body language (59 vs. 71), and have much more trouble controlling their anger (54 vs. 77).

Our stats also revealed that:

  • 69% of low self-monitors take their anger or frustration out on others (compared to 26% of high self-monitors).
  • 73% of low self-monitors do not think before they speak (compared to 2% of high self-monitors).
  • 80% of low self-monitors act impulsively (compared to 3% of high self-monitors).
  • 64% of low self-monitors admit that they often say things that they later regret (compared to 4% of high self-monitors).
  • 66% of low self-monitors have embarrassed their family or friends in social situations (compared to 7% of high self-monitors).
  • 62% of low self-monitors have been called “insensitive” (compared to 3% of high self-monitors).
  • When very angry, the top response for low self-monitors (44%) was to let their anger out (arguing, yelling) without holding anything back. The top answer for high self-monitors (53%) was to step away from the situation or person that is upsetting them, and try to put it in perspective.
  • If the situation calls for it, 94% of high self-monitors said that they would be able to be friendly with someone they dislike; only 13% of low self-monitors said they would be able to do this.

So on one side, we have a group of people who believe in telling it like it is, no holds barred, no mincing of words. On the other side we have a group of people who carefully regulate what they say and how they say it, and who show more restraint in their behavior. Is one group being honest and the other being fake? The answer lies in the data:

Essentially, the people we assessed generally feel that being tactful in social situations is still the way to go. It’s not a matter of being fake but rather, making it a point to adapt to the social context – to empathize, to make others feel comfortable, and to create harmonious interactions. Low self-monitors are either not able, or not willing, to do this.

So how do people self-monitor without feeling like they’re being fake? Well, “Civility costs nothing,” says Mary Wortley Montagu, “…and buys everything.” A little bit of civility and diplomacy never killed anyone, and they make social interactions less “omg-I-can’t-believe-she-said-that” awkward. Use tact! You can still get your message across. You can still deliver criticism. You can still disagree with someone’s opinion. But you can do it without offending. The bonus is that this way, others don’t get defensive because they feel respected, and that makes a whole world of difference.

Here are some silver-tongued tips:

  • 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 others. You can disagree with them, and still appreciate their point of view. This is one of the tenants of good negotiation skills – show them you know where they are coming from, show them that you understand their point of view. Point out what you have in common before pressing on with your viewpoint or demands. Chances are that antagonism will be replaced with a spirit of collaboration. 
  • Own your feelings. Consider the difference between “You always do things without thinking about how I will feel” vs. “I feel like my opinion doesn’t matter.” “You” phrases put the other person on the defensive. “I” phrases allow them to see things from your point of view.
  • Take a time-out. It’s important to cool down emotionally when circumstances make you feel angry, even if it’s just going outside for a few minutes of fresh air. You will be able to be more objective about the issue once you’ve calmed down and cleared your head. By taking a time-out (just like we do with children), you will avoid succumbing to the impulse to snap or lash out at others.
  • Observe human behavior. Invest a conscious effort to “read” and understand others. Pay attention to how others are reacting and what they are communicating with you. Putting in that extra effort to really listen and observe can teach you a lot about human interaction and emotions. Sensitivity to situational cues is a key element of self-monitoring. The more attentive you are to people around you, the more information you have at your disposal to guide your expressive self-presentation.
  • Consider others. In today’s world, the ability to get beyond black-and-white thinking, to be open-minded with others, to change one’s way of looking at events, and to focus on the best solution for a given situation is essential for success. Without flexibility and a willingness to consider the perspectives and feelings of others, you are creating additional, unnecessary obstacles for yourself.  To build a more flexible mindset, try doing the following:
  • 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 in similar circumstances. In every situation, there are several perspectives. Try to identify at least 2 or 3 different ways to look at it.
  • Put empathy in action. Get involved in helping people in some way, like volunteering. The closer you get to a situation emotionally, the more you realize the difficulties others might be facing.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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