Saturday, October 16, 2010

Another Twin Update, and a Fallacy of Self-Monitoring

Have I bragged about how awesome my new home office here in Atlanta is? Seriously, when I learned I'd be moving here to pursue my doctorate, I imagined a grimy, dirty, tiny, urban apartment. I definitely did not imagine a spacious sunroom office with a balcony surrounded by trees and a creek. Seriously, it's a joy to work in here (and I'm getting a surprising amount of work done today, despite the fact that I was left alone with the twins - they've been pretty quiet and well-behaved, and yes, I'm knocking on wood as I type this. Honestly. Simultaneously. It's a sight to see.).

But that's probably not the kind of thing you're looking for if you read this blog. You're either looking for organizational psychology, baby updates, or a cheap laugh (or if you're Kerry, you're hoping I'll mention you). Well, you, dear reader, are in luck, because you're going to get all three in this post (but I'm not going to mention Kerry).

It's been a while since I've talked about self-monitoring in these (virtual) pages, and as I know for a fact that some of you aren't interested in the slightest in this, I should warn you in advance that I'm going to spend the next four paragraphs talking about it. Feel free to skip down if you'd like. Self-monitoring, as you may recall, is a psychological construct that measures the tendency to be responsive to social cues to know what is the most situationally appropriate way to behave. So a high self-monitor will be careful to always display the most appropriate or personally beneficial public face, while a low self-monitor couldn't care less, and will always be true to themselves, for better or worse. There are positives and negatives to both of these, as I see it: a high self-monitor will do a better job of being seen as nice, networking, making friends, making people feel comfortable, and so on... but might be seen as inauthentic. A low self-monitor, on the other hand, might be seen as honest, genuine, and principled... but could also be tagged as uncaring, insensitive, or inflexible.

I've been researching this concept for several months now, mainly focusing on how it relates to leadership. Are high self-monitors, who network better, who build relationships faster, and who make people feel more comfortable, better leaders? Or are low self-monitors, who are authentic, honest, and guided by their own internal principals in a better position to lead well? Some evidence shows that high self-monitors might be more likely to emerge as leaders, but there's no solid evidence on how effective they actually are in those leadership positions. It's a very complicated question, one that I do not believe has a simple answer. I am, on the other hand, on version 7 of a theoretical model that explains the relationship. It features lots of circles, squares, arrows, and a stain where I spilled my Dr. Pepper.

However, the leadership angle is not something I've been looking at lately. As interesting as that may be, I think I may have found something by digging into self-monitoring itself, as a concept. Here's my thought (and by all means, tell me what you think about this): if you're inclined to pay attention to your environment, and you're inclined to tailor your self-presentation to match that environment (and those two inclinations are pretty much the definition of self-monitoring), does that mean that you are (a) good at reading your environment for these context cues, and (b) good at withholding your true emotions/personality and acting the appropriate part? In other words, just because you tend to consciously or subconsciously analyze your surroundings, does that necessarily mean you're any good at it? Just because you want to bury your true personality and feelings and behave in a certain socially appropriate way, does that necessarily mean that you're skilled at it? Does the desire indicate skill?

It's occurred to me that nearly every bit of research I've seen about self-monitoring assumes that the desire to self-monitor and the skill to self-monitor are the same thing. I'm not sure that's necessarily true. I can think of several examples in my personal life of people who want to self-monitor but aren't that good at it, and I'd bet you could think of some examples too. If you can't, think of popular culture. Have you ever watched the American version of the popular sitcom, The Office? Think of the show's star, Regional Manager Michael Scott. Here's a guy who certainly wants to be a high self-monitor: he will fake emotions, feign friendships, invent words and hobbies, and simply lie, all in order to get into a person's good graces. It's the very definition of self-monitoring: when Michael meets a new person, he observes them, analyzes them, and tries to tailor his behavior to match what he thinks they want to see and hear, in order to generate the maximum positive outcome.

A big welcome back to those who skipped ahead four paragraphs to get past the self-monitoring essay; sorry, I lied about the length of this part of the post. Now, where was I? Oh, right... the thing about Regional Manager Michael Scott of The Office is that he fails at self-monitoring, totally and utterly, because he's very, very bad at it. When one of his employees just found out he might have cancer, Michael Scott observes the situation, attempts to read the mood of his employees, and incorrectly decides that the best thing to do would be to throw a party. He is inclined to read the environment and seek context cues for his actions, sure: but he's not any good at deciphering what's going on around him and choosing a good response to it. And when Michael meets an African-American for the first time, he thinks the best thing to do is to "act" urban, using urban slang and trying to come across as a street-smart hipster. He is inclined to act contrary to who he truly is to make people feel more comfortable around him, but again, he's not any good at it.

So is he a high self-monitor, or a low self-monitor? And if he's neither... psychologically speaking, what is he? This is my question, and it's not one that I've seen anyone answer. Practically, I wonder how this differentiation would impact the whole debate of the self-monitor as a leader. What do you think? I'm seeking feedback here.

Luckily, the kids are usually pretty quiet in between feedings (and even during feedings), which gives me a lot of time to think about things like this. Benjamin and Kristopher are both doing very well: healthy, happy, hungry, and poopy. Speaking of poopy, it's amazing the different kinds of fecal material you get exposed to when you have new babies. I've counted at least seven distinct varieties so far, none of them even slightly related to what we've actually been feeding them. I'm tempted to give them some corn just to see what comes out.
And let me just say right here: "No, Mister Know-It-All-Spellcheck, poopy is a word!"
Kris and Ben continue to study me intently when I hold them, probably wondering who I am and hoping against hope that they don't grow up to look quite like me. Sometimes, especially when he scrunches his face up, Kris looks an awful lot like my father. I wish Dad were here to see it. If Kristopher does indeed grow up to look like Jerry Lemoine, he'll be a lucky guy. My dad looked a lot like Harrison Ford. If only I'd inherited that gene....

I'm continuing to teach the kids math. Benjamin passed the same test as Kristopher... when asked what the square root of four was, Ben immediately blinked twice. That's smart! Then I tried to read him a bit of my self-monitoring research, but he fell asleep. However, they seem intent on overachieving. They've both smiled already, a lot earlier than they should have been able to. Ben has done push-ups, and Kris has rolled over on his own. No projectile pooping lately, which is okay because I couldn't bring myself to use ink printing a picture of Kenny Chesney to hang by the diaper-changing table.
Meanwhile, Debby recovers nicely from her C-section... and much faster than anyone expected! It's nice to have the not-quite-so-hormonal Debby back. Although she still won't cotton to my idea of giving the kids some neat nicknames... like maybe "Nathaniel" and "Super-Fly"... at least we've agreed that we should dress the kids in onesies and sleepers that have monkeys on them, as often as possible.

Not sure what else to say in today's post, except to share the following picture from the hospital cafeteria and ask: does anybody else see something wrong here?


  1. Not really knowing anything about self-monitoring past what you included in your post, I think you've hit on something here. It looks like desire & skill HAVE been collapsed together in previous thinking, & it's nifty that you're asking the questions you are.

    So happy to hear that Debby's healing well & feeling better! I want to write her, but I want to give her time to heal & get into a manageable routine. (Don't want to be a bother while things are still probably crazy.)

    The boys are beautiful. and I can actually see where Kris might resemble Harrison Ford one day (weird as THAT is). And DUDE, those hands are huge!


  2. The first thing wrong that I notice about your last picture is that the Dr. Pepper bottle on top of the trash can is still full. Someone should have cracked that thing open and started drinking by now. Really, an unopened Dr. Pepper is a damn shame.

  3. Actually, that's a Pibb Xtra bottle, not a Dr. Pepper. Care to try again?


  4. I rushed home in 10 hrs, 4minutes--4 minutes more than the GPS thought the trip from Atlanta to LC should take. To show just how important you are to me, dear son-in-law, instead of crashing on the couch, I caught up with the reading of your blogs.All those times you were in your office, I thought you were studying, coming up with more brilliant breakthroughs for research, or uploading pictures of Ben and Kris.Burp them for me; I am too far away for the night shift.

  5. Hmm. This will require some more thought on my part. It may depend on how self-monitoring was defined operationally in the research that currently exists as to how skill relates to the construct as oppose to desire.

    I think what confuses me about the construct is that high self-monitors are not transparent or true to themselves. I think that might be an interesting area to pursue -- I think you can be a high self monitor but still true to yourself. Transparent with your thoughts but aware of your environment and surroundings and what the consequences will be for said transparency . . . if that makes any sense.

    I'm on a break from organizations and organizing so the brain is not at its best . . . This will be a fun conversation for the walk to stats tomorrow!

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