Have you ever been in a social situation and noticed someone who appeared to have outstanding social skills?
I remember observing one such person at a party. There were numerous ‘clusters’ of people dotted around the room. This lady moved from one cluster to another with absolute ease. Her facial expressions oozed confidence and charisma. People were laughing as she delivered jokes and quips. Don’t we all long to be able to have this magical effect on the people we meet?
Let’s face it: meeting new people is scary. What will they think of us? Will we embarrass ourselves? We all have memories of situations in which we have made some kind of social faux pas
. And we cringe whenever we remember these events.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could learn the secret of the 'social butterfly'. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some kind of manual that explained how to become popular in 5 easy steps!
As it happens, psychologists have discovered a key personality trait which appears to shed light on how these social masters cast their spell. This magical trait is called Self-Monitoring
. People who score high on a Self-Monitoring
test are exceptional social entertainers. In this article I will explain how these supreme socialites are able to court and charm the people they meet.
Self-Monitors Are Social Masters
A number of authors have proposed that the following skill is crucial for effective social interaction. They believe that in order to communicate well, we need to be able to express any emotion at will.
Erving Goffman proposed that effective social interaction is a theatrical performance. Our speech is part of the performance. However, our body language is also a central component of this act.
The concept of Self-Monitoring
was developed by Mark Snyder. Snyder says that there are
‘…striking and important individual differences in the extent to which individuals can and do monitor their self-presentation, expressive behaviour, and non-verbal affective display.’
Snyder points out that professional stage actors possess a strong ability to convey emotions. Politicians are also renowned for knowing how important it is to present the appropriate ‘public face’.
Snyder believed that effective social skills might involve the following abilities.
- Conveying Emotions
In order to communicate well, Snyder believed that we need to be good at conveying emotions. In fact, Snyder believed that ideally, we should be able to intensify the presentation of an emotion. We could, for example, exaggerate the expression of an emotion whilst telling a story. This will help other people recognise what we are feeling.
- Faking Emotions
In social situations, people look for empathy. Imagine the following scenario.
Since you don’t really know this person, it may be difficult to feel very upset about this situation. You are also currently ecstatic because of your recent date with your new lover.
So let’s imagine that you are struggling to feel very remorseful about this stranger’s job situation. But let’s also imagine that it is clear this person is very upset about having lost their job.
Snyder believed that in these kinds of scenarios, it is useful to be able to pretend we are upset. This will help the other person to feel as though we are empathising somewhat. However, if we struggle to ‘fake’ emotions, then we might struggle to convince the other person that we care very much.
- You are ecstatic because you have just been out on your 1st date with a potential girlfriend/ boyfriend.
- Now imagine you are chatting to someone you have just met and they tell you that they have recently lost their job.
- Hiding Emotions
This involves the reverse of the previous skill. Imagine that your boss is telling you a story. She has been telling you this story for 15 minutes and you are bored to tears. In this scenario, it might be useful to pretend that you are not bored.
Is faking an emotion wrong? One might argue that it is important to make the effort to listen and show interest in the above scenario (with your boss). It might be good to pretend you are interested even if you would rather be somewhere else! If you make the effort to show an interest in what your boss has to say now, then there is a distinct possibility that she might be nicer to you when you are looking for support in the future.
This test will tell you if you are a strong 'Self-Monitor'
Snyder developed a questionnaire in order to try to measure social ‘acting’ skills (Self-Monitoring).
Find out your Self Monitoring score: CLICK HERE TO DO THE TEST.
What do High Self-Monitors do that makes them social masters?
People who obtain a high score on the ‘Self-Monitoring’ test,
- Are good actors
- Are good entertainers
- Are good at telling jokes
- Are good at telling stories
- Are talkative
- Can do impressions well
People obtain a low score on the ‘Self-Monitoring’test,
- Do not draw attention to themselves
- Allow others to steal attention in social situations
Not everything about ‘self-monitoring’ is good
So what about people who obtain a low score on the self-monitoring scale? Low scorers are actually very interesting.
Low self-monitors don’t like to put on a social ‘act’.
In fact, a person who obtains a low self-monitoring score may feel that ‘faking’ emotions is a bad thing. Such people may also feel that those who try to ‘act’ in a certain way in social situations are being ‘false’.
A low self-monitor might say ‘Surely we should be able to show what we are really feeling without being judged. If you don’t like the way I act or feel, then I don’t want to spend time with you. I would rather spend time with someone who accepts me as I am.’
Low self-monitors like to be authentic. They are not particularly interested in making a good impression on everyone. They would rather hang around with like-minded people. To them, putting on a social ‘act’ in order to please people is somewhat ‘fickle’, and not a game they are interested in playing.
There are pros and cons to both of these approaches
- Low Self-Monitors Have Strong Friendship 'Ties'. Low self-monitors typically have ‘stronger ties’ with their friends than do high self-monitors. Low self-monitors can therefore rely on their friends for support when they need it. However, they typically do not maintain contact with a large number of people.
However, extremely low self-monitors are likely to struggle in many social situations. In fact,
Snyder asked a sample of patients who had been diagnosed with mental health problems to complete the self-monitoring questionnaire. These patients scored significantly lower on the self-monitoring scale than did non-psychiatric patients.
People who are struggling with mental health problems often find it difficult to concentrate on altering their behaviour to suit different social situations.
- High Self-Monitors Have Weak Friendship 'Ties'. High self-monitors, on the other hand, typically have weak ties with people from many different walks of life. They are able to quickly connect with people whom they meet in many different contexts.
High self-monitors have been shown to be particularly useful in business scenarios. This is because they have so many contacts from various walks of life. They are able to draw on the person with the right skills when they have need of them. They are also able to help people within a business to connect with others who have the necessary skills for various projects
Here is an example of another scenario in which high self-monitors often do well. High self-monitors are typically well placed when looking to find a new job. Research has shown that new jobs are often obtained through ‘friends of friends’. Someone with a large network of loose friendships is therefore in a good position to contact people who know others whom can offer new job opportunities.
Learn the skills of high Self-Monitors
So is it possible to learn the skills applied by high self-monitors? Is it possible to improve our social competence?
Our motto at Live Life Satisfied
is 'Know yourself better …Be yourself better!'
We believe that if we fully understand our weaknesses, it’s easier to make changes and improve our life outcomes.
With this in mind, I am now going to outline 5 things that self-monitors typically do. As we read about these 5 behaviours, we can each consider to what extent we apply each of these within social situations. And if we want to improve our social competence, we might do well to try to improve on these 5 skills.
People who score high on self-monitoring typically,
- Speak First
I’ve noticed that low self-monitors are often worried that they might do or say the wrong thing. As a result, they often shy away from starting conversations. High self-monitors do the opposite. They see an opportunity to begin a conversation and take the plunge.
Are you embarrassed about initiating conversations?
Often, we think that people who don’t know us might be annoyed with us if we talk to them. However, in my experience, people are usually really pleased when we make the effort!
How I learned to defeat my nerves!
When I turned 30, I spent a year or so reading literature about how to chat up girls. (Ok that’s very embarrassing to admit, so let’s quickly gloss over this fact). Many of the books I read encouraged me to approach strangers and begin conversations.
When I began to try to do this, I was often paralysed with fear. But eventually, through trial and error, I began to realise that if I approached people with confidence and humour, they often responded with delight. People actually love confidence and humour.
Nervous Approach. However, I also learned that if I acted very nervous, this had the opposite effect. If, as I approached a stranger, I acted as though I was embarrassed, she or he often responded badly.
The fact is, the majority of us are nervous about starting conversations with people we have just met. But because of this, I think most people are really grateful when someone else is bold enough to take the plunge.
In order to get a good response when I approached strangers, I found that the following principle was crucial. It was important to act as though I was meant to be there.
Act Natural. If we want to get a positive response, we need to act like what we’re doing is completely natural. We need to adopt the following mental attitude:
‘Of course I’m going to chat to you: it’s totally normal! We all like to chat to each other don’t we?’
I have found that when I have acted in this manner I have been far more likely to get a good response. But this takes a lot of practice. And you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes.
I found this process was like learning to ride a bike. You have to get back on the bike every time you fall off, and try again. And you just have to keep doing this until you get the hang of it. I had to keep trying to initiate conversations with strangers over and over again until I was able to do it with confidence.
And just to make clear: I am not encouraging readers to approach strangers. However, each time we are introduced to someone new, this is an opportunity to practise initiating conversation.
If I acted as though people were going to reject me, they often did exactly that. We tend to get embarrassed when we see someone else acting as thought they
- Use humour during conversation
High Self-Monitors try to keep the conversation up-beat and fun using humour.
I think that many people avoid using humour because they fear that people might not laugh at their jokes. In fact, I think that low self-monitors are sometimes worried about saying anything during conversation because they fear they may say the wrong thing.
Learning to deliver jokes with good comedy timing takes practice. This is why many comedians try out their new material in small venues where it doesn’t matter if they get a poor response. They wait until they have perfected their material before they try it on bigger audiences. This process gives them a chance to fine tune their new material.
In my 20s I would try to make jokes too often. I think that around 2/3 of my jokes were not particularly funny (i.e. people didn’t laugh at them). However, I would estimate that perhaps a third of my jokes would get the desired response.
Over the last three and a half years I have watched my girlfriend’s son develop his ability to use humour. He went through a period where, as we watched a movie he would try to make funny comments every couple of minutes. Unfortunately he hadn’t quite developed the ability make funny comments at this time.
However, I remember telling my girlfriend that I believed he was developing the necessary skills to be funny in the future.
My girlfriend's son is now 13 yrs old. And sure enough, he has become exceptional at delivering humour. I’ll give you an example of a recent joke he told.
You have to be willing to take the risk of not
being funny, and of telling bad jokes sometimes, if you wish to learn which jokes work well.
The Lazy Burglar
I came into the house last week and my girlfriend's son was lying on the couch wearing striped pyjamas. I always joke that he looks like a burglar when he wears these pyjamas.
‘Look’ I called out, ‘there is a burglar in the living room!’ Since he was lying on the couch looking very relaxed, my girlfriend said ‘he doesn’t look like he’s taking much.’
Her son responded ‘I’m taking my time, that’s what I’m taking’. Very witty right?
However, I do not believe he would have developed the skills to be so witty if he had not been willing to practise making jokes regularly. And I do not believe he would have learned to be amusing if he had not been willing to make mistakes and tell some bad jokes along the way.
My moral to this story is that people who are funny have to take risks.
If you hold back from telling jokes because you worry people won't laugh, then you will never be able to learn the art of humour. You’ve got to get it wrong sometimes, and learn from your mistakes. It’s the only way we learn to master anything.
- Share personal information
When people share personal information with one another, this helps to increase intimacy. High self-monitors are willing to share personal information with people they talk to. However, they only do this if their conversation partner also appears willing to do the same.
Sharing too much personal information. Some people share too much personal information early on in a conversation. People who share too much personal information often leave others feeling awkward. Such people can come across as too ‘full-on’.
Follow the other person's lead. However, if your conversation partner appears willing to share personal information, it may be more appropriate for you to do the same. This enhances a sense of rapport.
Some people do not like sharing personal information with people they have just met. This is understandable. But,
So it’s up to you. What happens if you refuse to exchange personal information in response to someone else opening up to you? You are likely to struggle to build rapport with the people you meet.
...what if someone appears willing to share personal information with you? If you are unwilling to do the same, then you are giving the impression that you do not really want to get to know this person better. It’s as though you are saying ‘I don’t really want to allow you to get any closer. Please keep your distance.’
27 Questions Which Develop Rapport Quickly
If you want to learn how to quickly encourage people to share personal information you could try asking some of the following questions. Aron Arthur developed these 36 questions in order to help people increase intimacy when they first meet. Subjects who used these questions were found to reported feeling 'closer' to their conversation partners than those who did not.
CLICK HERE to some of Aron Arthur's 36 intimacy enhancing questions.
- Tend to see the good in people
If you tend to like people, you are more likely to make an effort to talk to them. Conversely, it kind of goes without saying that if you have a tendency to see people as annoying and pretentious, then you probably won’t want to talk to them.
So if you are typically quite judgmental, and struggle to get along with people, then what can you do? It might be worth taking a leaf out of the High Self-Monitor's book. Why not try looking for the good things in people instead of the bad?
It might go against your personality to try to 'ignore people's failings' and instead focus on people's good qualities. But if this helps you to get along better with people, might it not be worth the effort?
Self-monitors tend to see the good in people. If you tend to be quite a judgemental person then this may well hinder your ability to be able to socialise well and make friends.
- Are good at knowing how much or how little to say
I am actually surprised by this finding. It strikes me that the central component of self-monitoring is being a social entertainer. High self-monitors probably enjoy being the centre of attention. Therefore, I would imagine they typically have a tendency to be a little self-absorbed.
Interestingly, the self-monitor scale appears to measure 2 unrelated traits. The first is the ‘social entertainer’ trait. This is the trait which we have been discussing in the article. However, the questionnaire also measures a trait called ‘other-centredness.’
What is Other-Centredness?
The ‘Other-Centredness’ trait represents the extent to which a person focuses on the other person during a conversation. In my mind, questions relating to this trait shouldn’t really be included in the Self-Monitoring questionnaire. This is because, as it stands, a person’s overall score ends up being composed of a mixture of the 2 traits. I think this is somewhat confusing.
Any regular readers of this website will know that at Live Life Satisfied, we believe that our self-esteem is greatly affected by the extent to which our closest friends (or family) pay us attention. With this in mind, it goes without saying that I believe being ‘other-centred’ during conversation is extremely important. If people pay attention to us during conversation then we are likely to feel emotionally enriched. To read my full article on this issue CLICK HERE: How to Improve Your Conversation Skills and Have Better Relationships.
In summary, however, people who are strong self-monitors and who are also ‘other-centred’ are likely to have two complementary skills. They will be good at initiating new topics when there are silences during conversation. However, they will also be good at listening to others when they are speaking.
Such people are very tedious, and spending time with them is not very emotionally rewarding.
Other-centred people listen to others. And this is central to being a good conversation partner. I believe that the more we pay attention to someone, the more rewarding the conversation will be for them.
Lack of attention leads to divorce John Gottman outlines how important it is that we respond to other people's bids for attention. He outlines his research in his book The Relationship Cure. Within marriages, a partner fails to respond to her (or his) partner's bids for attention, the marriage usually ends in divorce.
This book embodies one of our central beliefs at Live Life Satisfied: in order to remain emotionally enriched, we must surround ourselves with people who are attentive, encouraging and supportive.
CLICK HERE for Gottman’s outstanding book The Relationship Cure, in which he explains the central importance of responding to other people's bids for attention.
Knowing when to shut-up is as important as being confident enough to be humorous and talkative. People who just talk about themselves end up draining us emotionally. Don’t be one of those people.
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