At some point each of us has felt slightly out of place. Maybe it was the time we were the new kid at school. Or when we went on a date with that violinist who took us to their all-time favorite opera. It could even be last Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whenever was the last time you had to see your family. It’s hard to adapt to different environments, specifically those that include people with whom we might not share many things in common. That being said, some of us are better at blending in than others.
Dr. Mark Snyder, a professor from the University of Minnesota has been interested in the way certain people can switch from cliques as easily as changing the t-shirt they wear, while others are doomed to stand out in a crowd no matter what they do. In 1974 he created a test to determine whether a person was high self-monitoring or low self-monitoring. The premise was easy: High monitors will check for clues to blend in with the group of people they're with, regardless of whether it’s their cup of tea or not. Meanwhile, low monitors will stick to their guns and refuse to change their ways, even when surrounded by differently minded people.
The idea that we can change who we are depending on who we’re with can sound strange or reasonable depending on where you fall on this spectrum. High monitors will see this as a great asset, since they socialize with others no matter where they are. Low monitors will judge this behavior as being disingenuous or fake. While there are several opinions online about who’s a “better” person because of this, the truth is that neither type implies sympathy or kindness.
While there are many who claim that high monitors cannot have real friendships or relationships, because they adapt too easily from one social circle to the next, it honestly seems like they have a higher empathy level. They attempt to connect with those around them and find common ground. While it could seem that they don’t have a particular opinion on things, we could see that as having a flexible perspective. They don’t hold on to their beliefs to the point where they will refuse any other ideas or opinions. Their desire to communicate and socialize with other people is so strong that they are willing to see some of their traits as superficial rather than basic elements about themselves.
As for the low monitors, they can be seen as difficult yet very “what you see is what you get.” But is it necessarily a bad thing to not want to change your ideas even when surrounded by those who reject or feel strongly opposed to them? That one person who sticks out like a sore thumb could instill an idea that can eventually change the opinion of an entire group of community. This outsider could be presenting a new perspective, or at least showing them another way of seeing things. This group might not agree or relate with them immediately, but they could begin to change what they thought based on this new information.
To believe that everyone on one side is cool while anyone on the other side is not okay is a generalization that helps no one. Humanity is diverse. We need these different kinds of personalities so we can evolve as a species. We also need this because life would be incredibly boring otherwise. Can you imagine being the friend of the social butterfly? Perhaps this person who seems to fit everywhere wants to have a discussion about a topic they're not sure about. Their nature might make it difficult for them to actual debate the pros and cons on something; they’ll either find themselves agreeing despite not being sure, or their peers won’t try to change their mind with a new perspective.
Meanwhile, the person who is constantly the awkward person in the room might also feel lonely from time to time. They’ll be their genuine selves and still feel like they’re not accepted or liked by others. The person who blends in easily will probably find some sort of common ground to engage in conversation with them. So, actually having both kinds of personality proves to be a better idea altogether.
You can take Snyder’s test online to decipher what kind of self-monitor you are. But perhaps, after reading some of these examples, you’ve already figured where you fall on the spectrum. It’s important to note that being one type or another does not necessarily imply anything. While there are people who say that one side is more likely to go into sales and acting while the other will take more scientific or academic interest is slightly shallow. There are incredibly shy people who feel like they don’t fit anywhere and yet are able to become brilliant performers. There’s also very social people who get along with just about anyone who go into academic research.
This test helps identify patterns of ourselves that might not have been obvious to us before. It’s by seeing our faults and traits that we can begin to work on our social skills. While we can’t change who we are, we can look beyond our comfort zone and socialize with people who think differently from us. Eventually this will help us understand ourselves and the rest of the world even more.
Images belong to Iris Dijkers