Dear LoMA Family,
One of the most strongly held values in American society is authenticity. Movies, books, friends and family often tell us to “be yourself.” Anything else is looked at as being dishonest, phony or fake. As Adam Grant, points out in a recent New York Times article, however, this can often be very poor advice. He combines the “be yourself” mantra with the idea of self-monitoring. People who self-monitor always consider the effects of their words and deeds before they act. Like everything else in life the ideal is somewhere between the two extremes, and as we grow up we learn to navigate those extremes to balance our self-monitoring with authenticity to live a balanced life.
Even the most authentic people know to monitor their behavior in certain circumstances. They don’t talk to their grandmother like they speak to their friends and they know that they need to dress nicely for a job. When we self-monitor, we constantly scanning our environment for social cues and adjust accordingly. I do this when I go to parties where I don’t know many people. I consider more carefully what I will wear, what I say and even, subconsciously, my body language. I don’t act the same way at a party as I do when I’m clearing the halls at the end of the day.
In his article, Grant summarizes some of the research on self-monitoring. In 136 studies of 20,000 employees, he found that people who self-monitor a lot are more likely to get promotions, understand and help their colleagues and be well-liked. They were also likely to experiment with different leadership styles and problem solve more creatively.
I think the dilemma goes back to the idea of a fixed mindset. If I were to see my personality as just one thing, then I’m not likely to be capable of much change. In school, I can be loud and demanding. Most of the time, this serves the school well. With my family, especially my sick sibling, I need to be calm and patient. With my friends, I can actually be a little funny…really. Does this make me fake? As my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I am so proud when I see students who can navigate this with sincerity. They can be scholars in the classroom, competitive athletes on the court and silly at lunchtime. Watching what we say and adjusting our actions to the situation doesn’t make us fake; it just makes us more caring.