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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

There are advantages to hiring self-monitors, May 19, 2006, 4D.

Find a typical definition of an organization and it might read something like “two or more individuals who work together interdependently to accomplish a goal or set of goals.”  In order to understand organizations, we must understand individuals.  A considerable body of knowledge that focuses on the influences of personality and individual differences in organizations has been developed over the past century.

The possession of a certain personal trait is rarely described as good or bad—it simply helps define who a person is.  For example, it is neither good nor bad to be tall or short.  However, in some instances it might be advantageous to be tall and in other instances, short.  It would be an advantage to be tall if you wanted to become a professional basketball player. 

Organizations might seek out members who possess certain personal characteristics to fill certain roles because possessing certain characteristics could predispose individuals to success in a given position.  It should also be noted, however, that success is not guaranteed for those who possess the characteristic and failure is not assured for those who do not.  There are plenty of unusually tall people in the world who will never be professional basketball players and also many normal-sized people who are. 

In addition to physical traits, organizations might also look for people with certain personality traits.  Personality refers to a relatively stable set of psychological traits that influence how a person behaves in and across situations.  Researchers have studied a variety of personality traits and tried to identify where and when certain traits would be advantageous for organizations.  One of these traits is known as self-monitoring.

A person who is a high self-monitor is much like a chameleon.  A chameleon has the ability to assess its environment and quickly change its coloring to blend into the background.  This ability allows a chameleon to go unnoticed by others.  It becomes an unobserved and natural looking part of its environment.  By adapting to its environment, it helps assure itself of survival. 

People who are high self-monitors have natural abilities to read and gauge social and environmental cues and to then quickly adapt their behaviors to fit unnoticed into new situations.  They observe and quickly adapt to their behaviors to prevailing social norms, customs, rituals, dress, language, and patterns of interaction.  In a relatively short amount of time, high self-monitors can seamlessly blend into new social contexts and become almost unrecognized as outsiders.  

Being a high self-monitor could be an advantage for people working in boundary spanning positions and those on the periphery of organizations—those that interact with customers, partners, suppliers, and clients.  When it is important for organizational members to appear similar to those they interact with, high self-monitors have an advantage over low self-monitors, who tend to act in a consistent manner across all situations.  Just as it is important for basketball coaches to place players into positions where individual strengths can benefit the team, so it is with organizational leaders and workers.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved