Authentic self-monitoring

Maybe Being Authentic Isn’t All it’s Cracked Up To Be

Do you always try to be your most authentic self? Social media experts claim that authenticity is the key to success.

“Creating a remarkable experience for an audience starts with authenticity,” according to Copyblogger’s blog. Neil Patel, founder of QuickSprout, says, “Being authentic means being true to who you are as a person, writer, or company.

But wait a minute. What if they’ve got it wrong and authenticity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Don’t Be Yourself

That’s the position of Adam Grant, the nationally recognized professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also a best selling author and TED speaker.

In other words, people listen to what he has to say, and in a New York Times opinion piece he claims that being yourself is “terrible advice.”

Why?

Grant says, “If I can be authentic for a moment: Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but they are better left unspoken.”

It may be authentic to tell a colleague what a boring speech he just made, but why hurt his feelings?

Self-monitor Yourself

How authentic you are depends on a personality trait called self-monitoring, he says. If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re very careful about what you say and do, adjusting to social cues. You don’t want to offend anyone.

If you’re a low self-monitor, you listen to your inner voice, regardless of your circumstances. Sort of “what’s on your mind is on your tongue.” That may be more authentic, but can hurt your career prospects. Studies show that high self-monitors are more likely to be promoted into leadership positions.

I wonder, does being a higher self-monitor – or less authentic – mean being a phony? Grant says “no.” That’s because being conscious of your environment and striving to present yourself as you really are to others based on social cues may not be authentic, but it is “sincere.”

“The shift from authenticity to sincerity might be especially important for Millennials,” says Grant. One finding is that younger generations tend to be less concerned about social approval.

“Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles,” he says.

We’re All Putting on a Front

Grant’s opinion piece got me to thinking that we’re all putting on a front of our public selves. We’re designing and projecting the profile of the person we’d like to be, and that isn’t always who we really are.

I know that in more than one job, I was given what are called “stretch” assignments. They are meant to challenge you beyond your knowledge and experience.

I attended a seminar of a major money center bank a few years ago. Several senior women executives were talking to members of the bank’s “Women’s Initiative,” who were mainly middle managers.

The head of one of the Bank’s biggest profit centers recalled a meeting when she was still climbing the career ladder. Her then boss called her into his office and asked her to take on a particularly challenging assignment.

She nervously told him, “I won’t know what I’m doing.” He replied, “Hell, no one knows what they’re doing. Just make it up as you go along.”

That’s what most of us are doing, I think. The world is changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Me, I’m going to do more self-monitoring. No one needs to know when I’m scared or don’t know what I’m doing.

I may not be projecting my authentic self, but I will always be sincere in figuring it out and in striving to do the best that I can.

Are you a high or low self-monitor? Please join the discussion below.

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Comments

  1. I have gained much from reading this post.

    Authenticity is important but as with everything balance is required. Your statement on tailoring what you choose to reveal to another requires wisdom. Being direct is beneficial only in some circumstances and we need to know when.

    • Phoenicia — Many years ago, before I married someone else, I dated a man who didn’t believe in Valentine’s Day. Just a way for the greeting card companies to make money so he told me no uncertain terms not to expect a card. He didn’t take into account that getting a Valentine card was important to me. Sometimes you do things to please other people even if it isn’t true to your “authentic” self.

  2. I’m having a little bit of trouble with Grant’s advice. Being authentic doesn’t mean being offensive. Surely we should all self-monitor to the extent that we don’t blurt out everything that passes through our heads irrespective of the situation or company. But I don’t know that I would call that authentic. In slang it’s a “loudmouth.”

    • Ken — I think Grant would agree with you, that high self-monitors do not want to offend people. Low self-monitors — and maybe Donald Trump is a good example — say things regardless of whether it might be offensive to some people.

  3. What a great topic! I always cringe when I see advice that includes being your “authentic” self because most of us don’t know really know what the heck that means. Writer’s go through the same thing when they’re told to find their “voice.” I would have to say that there is no question I am a high self-monitor.

    I recall boarding a small passenger plane in Molokai to fly back to Maui just as a storm from was moving in. As we were taxing down the runway the winds were already so strong that the little plane was rocking back and forth and this woman in the seat across from me was freaking everyone out moaning about how we were all going to die and repeatedly going through the motions of crossing herself and as I looked at her I could vividly see myself reaching out and slapping her silly. Then I reached out …. and patted her arm and tried to assure her. She never knew that the smile on my face was because of a very different image. Yep, it’s best I stick with monitoring myself at all times. 🙂

    • Marquita — love your example. It’s not always easy to keep your mouth shut when you’d like nothing better than to tell someone off. That’s why it’s a good idea never to discuss politics when you don’t know where the people you’re with stand on issues.

  4. I think I am a high self monitor. I tend to survey the surroundings before speaking. Great post! I love learning about behaviors of humans. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sabrina — I’m a high self-menitor, too. My husband wasn’t, but I think he got away with it because he was so sincere and he never said anything with malice.

  5. This is an interesting topic. When I am in editor mode, I definitely have a high self-monitor. Same goes for when I was in teaching mode. It’s the professional way to behave. And yet, when it comes to my writer self, I veer toward having a low self-monitor. It’s a fine line to walk, and it will be interesting to see how I manage the two as I start doing more as a writer.

    • Jeri — interesting thought that we have both high and low self-monitor selves. I think we tend to be more high self-monitor in business situations but low self-monitor with our most intimate friends and family. Or maybe it’s the other way around!

  6. Hi Jeannette; I said just that last night on my radio show on blog talk. I said none of us know what we are doing. We are all making it up as we go along. Its just that some have been making it up longer and others don’t need as much practice to get good at something. And some are just born with certain talents like my brother Michael and anything mechanical or electronic. As for being authentic it does matter what industry you work in and what type of community you are talking about. On my website the Midway Marketplace I have actually censored myself because I have had complaints from readers and clients who told me earlier on that I had shared too much. The amusement industry, especially the U.S. carnival part of it, is very closed mouthed and protective of information. I purposely don’t ask certain questions because I just don’t want the information.

    For example I don’t like knowing where a ride is going to be because then I know where the show that owns it is going to be. And if by some accident someone books that event away from that carnival owner, I could get blamed. However, when it comes to being a coach, mentor, author, and speaker, people not only want authentic but they expect and demand it. That is why I started the second website even though many of my posts would have been just at home on the Midway. I wanted to keep them separate and not risk offending people who didn’t sign on for me as a motivational coach. I honestly believe that my authenticity is my biggest draw. People can tell I’m real and that I share my experiences good, bad, or somewhere in between. Just one last thought. While listening to the women’s world cup soccer tournament five years ago the commentator said their coach used to tell them to fake it until they made it. You don’t hear that phrase any more, but it used to be very popular. Thanks for sharing the article and this post, Max

    • Max — We do make it up as we go along, more so than ever. I think that’s because the world is changing so rapidly with the advances in technology. As soon as you learn something, it’s changed. Just have to go with the flow.

    • Nancy – I agree and wish he would be a higher self-monitor, if for no reason that he makes the U.S. seem so foolish to the rest of the world.

  7. Similarly, I’ve always lived by the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra! Emotional intelligence is incredibly important to success for most people, so I agree that a pure ‘authentic self’ of saying what you actually think can sometimes be counterproductive.

    • Dan — Agree that emotional intelligence doesn’t mean you lay it all out there. You’ve got to be flexible in self-monitoring depending on your audience. You surely want to self-monitor your doubts about being able to the job your boss has just given you.

  8. Personally believe it’s important to monitor ourselves in order to make our lives work.

    Being authentic to a degree is what most of us are. An example is when we are asked “how are you?” Unless it’s someone close to us why do we need to tell them that we have blisters on our feet? Much better to say fine, which is true apart from the annoying blisters.

    • Catarina — how true. “How are you?” is more of a greeting than a desire to know that you have blisters on your feet or to learn all the details about how cute your children are. I cringe when people feel asking how they are means opening the floodgates of their personal lives.

  9. I will be honest, being who you are never worked for me.
    I am a natural coward and indecisive, and lack any confidence, and have no natural athleticism this is who I am naturally.
    But it was this lack of confidence in myself, that drives me to. If I am self confident, than I accept who I am and will not improve. It is a drive to change, that changed who I was and to become a soldier, and a martial artist and wrestler. I do monitor what I say, because I must make sure who is saying it, is the improved me, not the natural one inside. I may be cowardly, and indecisive and lack any confidence, but I have decided I won’t be that today.

    • William — hard to believe that you’re so lacking in self-confidence. You don’t come across that way in your writing. What you’re doing is at the heart of what Adam Grant advises: “Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but they are better left unspoken.”

  10. Jeannette, I did read that Adam Grant piece before you posted this. It came up on LinkedIn. Just coincidence.

    The truth is I read his opinion to be confusing when he made the remark, “my approach was to start being the person I claimed to be in regards to the speaking platform.” Or something darn close to that.

    This statement in itself made me question HIS authenticity. Do you know what I mean? I find he often does this in his writings. Maybe it’s a right approach, though.

    • Patricia — He says he’s an introvert and was scared of speaking in public. So he tried to be the person the audience was expecting and not his authentic self which was basically a scaredy-cat. He may not have been his authentic self but he was sincere in trying to project the image he wanted for himself and the speaker the audience was expecting. My take.

  11. This is an excellent post, Jeannette, and so appropriate for this presidential election season. Here are a few thoughts:

    For the past year, Donald Trump’s supporters and political pundits have lauded his authenticity as the reason he has captured the imagination of so many voters. The problem is that in reality, Trump’s so-called authenticity amounts to a total disregard for political correctness, savaging political opponents, making fun of people with disabilities and denigrating women, people of color, Mexicans, Muslims and anyone who disagrees with him. So, if we’ve been witnessing the “authentic” Trump on the campaign trail, it’s terribly frightening to think that he could actually become President. It’s equally scary, however, to consider that Trump’s entire campaign might actually have been a charade – that he has been putting on an act, masquerading as a hateful, condescending, loathsome, race-bating, braggart and ultra nationalist in order to win votes.

    I laugh every time I hear political commentators say that in private life, Trump is really thoughtful and gracious and that he will “pivot” and become “more presidential” as the general election evolves. Well, the general election is evolving, and right out of the box, Trump has excoriated the media for asking questions about Trump University, vilified the Indiana-born judge in the case as a Mexican who is not capable of giving him a fair trial and promised in a victory speech last night that he will soon detail all kinds of sordid facts about Hillary and Bill Clinton.

    I happen to believe we’ve been witnessing the authentic Donald Trump til now, but even if he is pretending to be meaner and more racist than he is in real life, America will wind up losing if he becomes President — no matter which Trump we get.

    • Mark — thanks for your thoughtful comment. That’s the conundrum for voters: are they seeing the authentic Trump or the Trump who’s putting on an act to woo voters? My hope is he doesn’t take office and we never have to find out.

  12. Oh Jeannette, I like that self-monitoring. You’re absolutely right that we don’t always need to say what we think – as a matter of fact there are many times when we shouldn’t.
    One example – I hate public speaking and if I was ‘authentic’ everyone would know that. Instead before I had to make a presentation I would make sure I looked my best, wore my favourite feel-good outfit and memorized the whole speech. People always came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed my speech but I was definitely not authentic – I was an actress playing a part.

    • Lenie — I agree. We are all playing a part when we’re on the public stage. How could it be otherwise? Our job is to meet our audience’s expectations, even though that means we don’t always show our authentic self. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being sincere is projecting the image the audience — be it one person or many — expects.

  13. I am a high self-monitorer but I am not sure I can buy into Grant’s advice to not be yourself. The term “being authentic” is overused these days and sometimes used to excuse bad or unkind behaviour. I think you can be genuine and show your true self without being offensive and without sharing every inch of your private life and thoughts. How much of yourself you reveal should depend on the circumstance and audience. Stretching yourself to meet new goals is great but trying to be someone you’re not will just cause you a lot of stress.

    • Donna — I don’t think Grant means — and I certainly don’t believe — that you should attempt things that are totally out of your sphere of expertise or comfort zone. That would come across not only as not authentic but phony and cause you a lot of stress, too.

  14. I tend to believe that people can be authentic without being jerks or without telling every single thing about themselves. I like to think I’m a pretty open person and I work on telling stories to help me get into the points of view I wish to express. Yet I also know how to keep boundaries and know there are some things I’ll never share online with anyone. I also believe I can be authentic when offering advice when asked by altering the words I use that still communicate what I want people to hear without hurting anyone’s feelings… unless they need to be hurt. 🙂

    • Mitch — Unfortunately, some people are too authentic and are jerks. I won’t mention any names but his initials are DT.

      • The thing is we can never control what others do, only what we do and what we’ll accept. He’s not even trying not to hurt others, and when he’s called on it there’s no apology, it’s everyone else’s fault for being sensitive. Luckily he’s not my role model, which means I choose how I express myself. Hopefully, even when I’m being direct, I’m doing so in a way that’s not as intentionally abrasive as him, and others aren’t either.

        • Mitch — there’s being authentic, and then there’s being obnoxious. We all need to self-monitor ourselves for our own protection and to be sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings.

  15. It is interesting because, in the US election, the candidates now are on opposite ends of the self-monitoring spectrum but are both being criticized for their method of self-monitoring. Trump is considered a loose canon who doesn’t sensor himself at all. Clinton is considered as someone very calculated who will say anything that people want to hear. And for those reasons, both of them are deemed by many as untrustworthy. Just interesting to see that there isn’t one right answer. Or maybe finding a middle ground is the answer.

    • Erica — you make a good point about the two candidates. Hillary parses every word; I believe it’s not only because she wants to say what people want to hear but because she has been maligned so much throughout her career. Some things she brought on herself but I think her critics are sometimes way over the top.

  16. Hi Jeannette. I think that’s an interesting idea. I think the two sources are talking about different kinds of authenticity.

    On a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is the lowest self-monitor and 10 is the highest I would put myself about 7.5. I definitely edit my words before I say them, but I don’t think that I’m being any less authentic.

    If I’m working with someone in my business, I will tell them exactly what I think we should be or should not be doing. I try to be tactful. If we could do something in a different way that would get better results then I will say so. I won’t bring up politics, religion, or what I had for dinner last night because they aren’t relevant for the situation. I don’t think that is being any less authentic.

    When they tell you to be authentic on social media or when writing a blog post, I think what they mean is that you shouldn’t lie or pretend to be someone you aren’t. When I write about a new product from my company, I should share my real opinion of it. It does this, it doesn’t contain that, six people I asked said it tastes great, but I thought it tasted too nutty. That’s the authenticity you should be. What I think about the current political candidates would be authentic, but irrelevant when talking about the product. That isn’t being any less authentic though.

    It’s definitely something to think about.

    • Ben — I agree that self-monitoring yourself doesn’t mean you aren’t truthful or you’re pretending to be someone else. I think it means that you tailor your remarks to your audience, understanding their wants and needs and always being respectful of their opinions.

  17. Hi Jeannette, For some reason as I read this post on being authentic and showing your true self, Donald Trump keep coming to mind. 🙂 here is a perfect example of someone with no filter, showing their true self and continuing to excel. Don’t think it works like that for everyone tho, he’s an anomaly. As for me, I think I’ll continue to self-monitor and like you, try to be the best I can be.,

    • Susan — you’re right, Donald Trump doesn’t have a filter. I was just thinking, he must have been such a brat as a child!