Self-presentation is an individual’s ability to adjust their personality to fit the occasion. High self-monitors reflect effective actors or politicians in their ability to find the appropriate verbal behavior and emotional expression for a particular setting. Their image or self-presentation is just right for the audience.

The self-monitoring scale

 In 1974, the Ph.D. dissertation of Mark Snyder, currently a renowned social psychologist at the University of Minnesota, introduced the “self-monitoring (SM) scale” – a 25-item survey that assesses an individual’s ability to successfully manage and control expressive presentations.

 Both high and low SM is presumed to be thoughtful and intentional. It’s just as likely low self-monitors are not mindfully considering a need to be consistent and genuine in their verbal expression, but are simply unaware or inconsiderate of the social cues suggesting certain situational discriminations.

 Years of research with the SM scale has demonstrated the following personality-behavior relationships relevant for safety leadership. High self-monitors are:

1. More likely than low self-monitors to resolve interpersonal conflict through collaboration and compromise.

2. More likely to emerge as group leaders, especially when high levels of verbal interaction are called for.

3. More participative in conversations, more often use humor effectively, and talk more about the other person(s) than themselves.

4. More likely to notice and remember information concerning others; and they’re more successful at detecting people’s intentions, and more accurate at eyewitness testimony.

5. More likely to be promoted in managerial careers than low self-monitors.

It’s not all good

 Research suggests it’s advantageous to be a high self-monitor. But consider too that high self-monitors are more susceptible to pressure from others; and though they maintain flexibility in relationship building, they make relatively little emotional investment in relationships. They choose friends for function (e.g., one for sports activities, another for career advice and learning, and another for social occasions). In contrast, low self-monitors base friendships on liking, irrespective of situational domains. They prefer the same friends across all activities.

 It’s easier to read the emotions, perspectives, and values of low self-monitors because their self-presentation style is more consistent across situations. Some social psychologists conclude low self-monitors are more genuine than high self-monitors whose self-presentation expression varies according to the environmental context.

Assessing self-presentation disposition

 Do you consider yourself a high or a low self-monitor? Table 1 lists 12 of the 25 items of the SM scale, used to assess participants’ self-presentation styles. In some studies, participants merely answered “true” or “false” per each item. The more answers of “true,” the higher one’s SM in self-expression. Items followed by an “R” are “reverse scored,” meaning a “false” answer should be scored as “true.”

 A more sensitive assessment of your SM disposition is obtained if you circle a number on a scale varying from 1 to 5, with a “1” = Never, “2” = Rarely, “3” = Sometimes, “4” = Often, and “5” = Always. For those items followed by an “R”, the number circled should be subtracted from “6.” Then the higher your total, the higher your SM score.

 This SM score is not a valid measure of your self-presentation style. Individual scores from group presentations can activate conversations about the potential connection to safety leadership – from reading the safety-related conversations and emotions of others to presenting injury-prevention information and procedures to others.

 Each item in Table 1 has high “face validity,” meaning you can readily see how the item connects to the SM construct. Thus, you can make your

score reflect a deserved result (high or low SM). As you know, those high in SM would be more likely to adjust their answers to reflect the score desired.

 Research has revealed three personality factors measured by this assessment tool: Other-Directedness, Extraversion and Acting. The first six items in Table 1 reflect Other-Directedness – willingness to change behavior to suit others. The next three items connect to Extraversion – an outgoing, people-oriented, sociable and talkative person. The last three items reflect Acting – one’s desire and ability to play a desirable role as a personal friend, advisor or coach.

A skill to be shaped through feedback

Researchers consider SM to be a trait rather than a state. I’m convinced it’s more constructive to consider SM a skill that can be coached and shaped through behavior-based feedback. I also think situational factors should determine whether a person adopts a high or low SM presentation style.

 But it might not be obvious when high vs. low SM is called for. And, when you see inappropriate SM, how do you give the person feedback? Courage is required here, and your competent SM would likely advise you to let it go. Plus, openness and humility are needed to accept corrective feedback about one’s inappropriate self-presentation behavior.

 Ask a close friend about your self-presentation behavior in a particular social setting. If your request is honest and sincere, you might receive invaluable information for improving your self-presentation in a subsequent social interaction.

Studying the survey items and their association with Other-Directedness, Extroversion and Acting facilitates understanding of the meaningfulness of SM for your social interactions at work, at home, and everywhere in between.

1 Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 4, 526-537.

Table 1:  Representative items from the 25-item SM Scale1

1.  In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons.

2.  I’m not always the person I appear to be.

3. I guess I put on a show to impress or entertain people.

4. I may deceive people by being friendly when I really dislike them.

5. When I am uncertain how to act in social situations, I look to the behavior of others for cues.

6. My behavior is usually an expression of my true inner feelings, attitudes, and beliefs (R).

7. In a group of people, I am rarely the center of attention (R).

8. I am not particularly good at making other people like me (R).

9. I have trouble changing my behavior to suit different people and different situations (R).

10. I would probably make a good actor.

11. I have considered being an entertainer.

12. I can look anyone in the eye and tell a lie with a straight face (if for a right end).