Service of Authenticity vs. Sincerity: Are You a High or Low Self-Monitor?

June 23rd, 2016

Categories: Authenticity, Extrovert, Introvert, Questions, Sincerity

Being authentic is in fashion–what many suggest we’re supposed to be. Wharton School management professor Adam Grant disagrees. He wrote “‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice” in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is ‘the choice to let our true selves be seen.’”

Grant feels that “nobody wants to see your true self.” [I’ll go a step farther and say nobody much cares much about you. Have you been asked “How are you?” or “How was vacation?” and before you respond the person is half way across the room.]

Back to Professor Grant. He shared the experience of an author who regretted saying everything that came to mind over a period of weeks. For example, the man told his in-laws they were boring and his kid’s nanny that he’d like to date her if his wife left him. After suffering the fallout from his truth-talk, this author concluded “Deceit makes our world go round.”

About millennials Grant observed that “like all younger generations [they] tend to be less concerned about social approval.” He warned: “Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles.”

The professor, also author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” [Penguin Random House], wrote that people are either high or low self-monitors

  • “If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone. According to Grant, high self-monitors, concerned about their reputations, advance faster and “are more likely to be promoted into leadership positions,” because they “spend more time finding out what others need and helping them.”
  • “But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances.” Most women are low self-monitors, encouraged by society to express their feelings he wrote. As a result they can appear unprofessional and weak. Grant shared an example of a woman given a management position at a major corporation. When she admitted to the 5,000+ employees for which she was now responsible that the “job was ‘scary,’” she shook their confidence in her.

Do you remember the no doubt apocryphal story about Henry Ford who did not  hire a man he was considering for an executive position because he sprinkled salt on his dinner before tasting it? Grant would have called the dinner companion a low self-monitor. Citing a study of people given steak and salt cellars he reported that “high self-monitors tasted it before pouring salt, whereas low self-monitors salted it first.”

Being authentic and a low self-monitor makes for a good marriage, Grant wrote, “but in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic.”

While calling it an old fashioned concept, Grant thinks Lionel Trilling [who died in 1975], had the answer when the author/literary critic/teacher suggested sincerity. “Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.”

Herminia Ibarra “found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles.” Ibarra, an organizational behavior professor at Insead, a graduate business school in France, studied consultants and investment bankers. Grant wrote: “They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.”

Dr. Grant described himself as an introvert, yet he “acted out of character,” to force himself to speak in public. “No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.”

Do you salt your food before tasting it? Do you say whatever comes into your mind, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead? Do you fall into the high or low self-monitor category, or in between? Do you force yourself to act out of character to achieve meaningful goals? Do you think sincerity trumps authenticity and is the wisest approach both at home and at work?

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8 Responses to “Service of Authenticity vs. Sincerity: Are You a High or Low Self-Monitor?”

  1. David Reich Said:

    A very simple answer… You have to do what’s best or what’s appropriate in each specific situation. This doesn’t mean that you’re a total phony or that you lie, but you need to just use your head and determine what’s the appropriate amount of information or inner feelings to provide. It’s different for every situation, so there’s no real formula.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I haven’t been deposed, nor have I been a witness at a trial, but know people who have been. They are advised by their attorneys to answer questions briefly–just the facts–not to embellish. When I read your comment and thought again about the executive who told her 5,000+ reports that her new job was “scary,” I think of that advice in addition to “tell your friend or keep it to yourself.”

    I also think it helps if you are observant and intuitive. You may drink a glass or two of wine with dinner every night but if your dinner companion is your client or boss and they order ice tea, soda or nothing, it’s sensible to also order a non-alcoholic drink or water as well. Pretty sure I came to this conclusion not because I’m a high or low self-monitor, but because in the day of fancy dinners with umpteen forks and knives on either side of a porcelain plate, in addition to “take the fork, spoon or knife from the outside in,” my mother advised: “Watch what your hostess does.”

  3. hb Said:

    For once, I must agree with the business school professor, Dr. Grant. He has got it right. If everyone knew what I really was thinking, I’d have been a dead duck a long time ago, and that goes for my personal, as well as my business life.

    If your colleagues, superiors and subordinates, your friends and family, even your intimates, are going to be offended by knowing the “real” you, why let them be, if you don’t lose much by deluding them?

    For example: I spent many years lending money to Third World countries. I knew they would not be able to repay what they borrowed, as did most, but not all, of my colleagues. However, it was the fashionable thing to do at the time and I was well paid to do it. Why risk my job by speaking out and offending the idealists? Instead, I made as much money as I could off the exercise, and limited the damage where I could to the maximum extent possible.

    You ask about Brazil and The Olympics? I could have told you so, but nobody asked me.

    You are right about Henry Ford and the salt though, but I have a problem remembering it. The trouble is that in most restaurants, the fellow with the pepper mill comes around only once after you have been served. If you don’t take advantage of him then, you’ll never see him again.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    WOW are you right about the pepper. As I always say “NO” I never thought about it but how can guests know if they want pepper if they haven’t had a chance to taste the food?

    I feel so horrible for Brazil. I weep. I don’t think any country recoups the expense of hosting anything related to the Olympics, but some can afford it more than the others. Add the Zika virus curse. Nightmare.

    You try to say something nice or nothing at all as the old saying goes. But for what you call your intimate friends, if they don’t know what you like or don’t like to eat, for example, or what drives you nuts in other ways, how can they please you or avoid displeasing you? I lived with someone for four years before he told me he didn’t like a sandwich meat I periodically bought. You can’t count on ESP. Enter how to tell someone something negative with humor and in a nice way.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Discussions regarding being oneself often result in various themes and variations of psychobabble, which has been “in” for all too long a time. Just what is meant by that? Does one sit there pondering the weight of sincerity vs. authenticity each time one acts and/or speaks? And if one did, would it make much difference, other than slowing acts or discussion down to a frustrating crawl?

    Since everyone is unique, it’s sheer arrogance to slap individuals into categories. To do so is to fit millions of square pegs into round holes. To presume to analyze rude behavior (insulting one’s in-laws)as being “authentic” can be misleading. How about categorizing this behavior as “bad manners?” or perhaps “poor upbringing?” not to speak of “insensitivity?”

    So a woman makes a dumb remark, and loses the confidence of her colleagues — that’s meant to determine general behavior of that sex? Phooey! No such thing as a dopey man…..right?

    Professor Grant appears to forget that being oneself can mean caring for others, showing concern for sensitivities and feeding the poor – so what message is he sending? Too bad Mother Theresa is no longer around. Would he to inform her she’s a phony? Then again, perhaps he’d like to try that on the Dalai Lama!

  6. Michelle Slovak Said:

    That poor fellow that ruined his chances with Henry, in today’s age if he had health issues that restricted his salt intake, he would
    have been viewed as a ‘high monitor’ regardless!

    Reminding me of Henry’s quote; “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time with integrity.”

    thank you, Jeanne!! Food for thought!! Or salt, in this case..

  7. jmbyington Said:


    I don’t think that the professor was being arrogant. Like so many he was just disputing popular myth. However I thought that his example of the female executive who said she was scared is valid. I have seen that happen and it was a very good example of what he was describing. He didn’t say every single woman was like this.

    Discussions like this always fascinated me. I can read and talk about them forever.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love plays on words. You’re great at it!

    You also identified a good reason the salt-on-steak study may not be so good at identifying personality types! To turn around your example, imagine if you have low blood pressure and were told by a doctor or nutritionist to pile on the salt! I suppose that many of these studies have loopholes, yet I still love chewing on the conclusions academia draws from them!

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