The agency of others: How self-monitoring similarity affects brokerage opportunities

Stefano Tasselli, Alberto Caimo, Alessandro Lomi, Martin Kilduff


A debate across organizational studies concerns how projects and careers benefit from openness versus closure. This debate ranges across social experiences that include being open or closed to advice from difficult colleagues, using or refusing cross-boundary knowledge, and privacy versus transparency at work. There is also recent recognition that the efforts of focal individuals to gain benefits from open or closed processes depend on the actions or attributes of those others with whom individuals interact. Agency is not completely determined by focal individuals. In social networks, the debate over openness versus closure is fundamental to under-standing one of the leading research topics -- brokerage. The typical picture of brokers is as movers and shakers who seize opportunities to span across the gaps in social structure. Brokers tend to live in open networks that provide access to good ideas and opportunities for the control of information flow. And brokers also tend to exhibit a high self-monitoring personality orientation that involves flexible adjustment of self-presentation to the requirements of an open network of different separated groups. The high self-monitoring broker (i.e., ego) is, therefore, depicted as active in managing flows of resources and meanings across the gaps between the others (i.e., alters) with whom ego is connected. High self-monitors, relative to low self-monitors, strive to make social interactions successful by flexibly presenting their attitudes and behaviors to meet the requirements of different interpersonal situations. But, with a few and partial exceptions, the extent to which alters’ personalities constrain or enable ego’s brokerage is as yet undiscovered. In this paper, we seek to examine how the personalities of both ego and alters contribute to social network openness or closure. Our results across two separate studies show that the personalities of alters contribute to whether high self-monitors occupy brokerage positions. We expected and found that high self-monitoring egos tended to have open networks when their alters were other high self-monitors; whereas high self-monitoring egos tended to have closed networks when their alters were low self-monitors. In both cases, high self-monitoring egos are likely to be flexibly adjusting to the network preferences of their alters. High self-monitors use the preferences of others as a guide for their own words and actions. Thus, people become or fail to become brokers, not just because of their own self-monitoring orientation, but also because of the personalities of those with whom they interact. Our question, therefore, is the extent to which focal individuals relative to their network alters affect the occupation of focal individuals’ positions in open or closed networks. Is an individual’s occupation of a brokerage position affected also by the self-monitoring orientations of those with whom the individual interacts? Perhaps, network advantage is conferred by the actions of others as much as by the agency of the focal individual. People benefit or suffer from the connections they attract from others who bring with them their own network preferences. Thus, we forge a structural perspective to the study of psychological traits relevant to social networking and brokerage.

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