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Peer Pressure – None of Us Fully Escapes It

When you were a kid did your parents ever say, “If everyone decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge would you?” Okay, perhaps they used something other than the famous bridge as an example but you get my point. They were trying to warn you against mindlessly going along with the crowd. Their concern was even greater when the crowd was doing something potentially harmful.

Call it peer pressure, social proof or consensus, but each describes the same thing; humans are pack animals. As such, we are heavily influenced by others; what they’re thinking, feeling and doing. Each impacts what we think, how we feel, and what we do. Sorry, but there’s no getting around it.

This jumped out a me once again when I read the following from Brian Kight, CEO of Focus 3, in his daily email:

First, you and I are not immune to peer pressure. It doesn’t matter your age, experience, or what group you belong to. Believing you’re above peer pressure only blinds you to how much it drives behavior. Group dynamics don’t decrease as we progress in our careers, they increase. In emotions, complexity, and consequences. Second, peer pressure always pulls you in one of two directions: it propels you forward or it pulls you back. It’s never neutral. Keeping it simple and true accelerates your awareness of how social scenarios affect you.

Brian is right (me and him!). As much as we like to see ourselves as individuals, we bend to the crowd more than we realize on many things. Deep inside us is the sense that “everyone can’t be wrong” and “there’s safety in numbers.” Why? If you go back in history things worked out well more often than not when people followed the crowd.

Now let me acknowledge this; great things usually don’t come from going along with everyone else. Great thinking, amazing inventions and social change usually come about when people choose to break from the pack. But, most people aren’t looking to do such monumental things. Our days are full of many mundane tasks and decisions. Couple that with the fact that a deeper, stronger drive survive and you get a sense of why consensus has such a grip on us. Here are a few examples:

  • You disagree with the strategic direction at work but don’t speak up because everyone else seems to be on board.
  • You’re at an event that’s so boring you can hardly wait for it to end. Despite your boredom, when everyone gives a standing ovation you stand and clap too.
  • A contentious social subject comes up (Trump, abortion, diversity, etc.) and, although you disagree with the majority, you don’t say speak up.

In each case you decided to go along to get along. Oh sure, you’ll rationalize your decision but the fact remains; you went along with the crowd. Going along with the crowd is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t realize how much the current pulls down the beach unless you fix your eyes on a stationary point on shore.

Conclusion

Going along with the crowd the majority of the time isn’t bad. In fact, quite often it’s good because it generally works out well. Indeed, over history those who stayed with the crowd were typically the ones who survived, thrived and passed along their genes.

However, you need to be careful when your gut is telling you otherwise. When you were younger it would not have been good to jump off a bridge just because other kids were doing it. As an adult sometimes you need to speak up, break from the crowd or go against the grain to be true to yourself and for your personal well-being.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical– will be available for pre-sale July 9and live on August 20.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by nearly 70,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.

 

Why is it so hard to…

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to…do certain things and not do others? It’s a good bet that a lot has to do with psychology and conditioning. Your rational brain might be telling you one thing but something deep inside is prompting you in another direction. For example, why is it so hard to…

…say no to a friend? Imagine for a moment a stranger asks you for your last $10. I’m sure it would be very easy to say no but if a friend asked it would be much tougher to resist their request. That’s because the principle of liking is at work on you. It’s often the case that your willingness, or unwillingness, to do something has more to do with who is asking than what’s being asked. One word of advice; be wary of the person you come to like too quickly, especially if they ask for something shortly after meeting you.

…not say thanks to unwanted actions? Many years ago, my daughter and I were walking through the mall. Shortly after entering we were accosted by someone from a kiosk asking if we wanted to try Dead Sea Salt facial cream. I simply said, “No,” and immediately felt Abigail elbow me as she said, “Dad, it’s ‘no thank you.’” I asked her why I should say thank him when I didn’t appreciate being interrupted and wasn’t thankful for what he was offering? She advised me it’s considered polite to say, “No, thank you.” That social norm comes about because the principle of reciprocity conditions us to give back to those who first give. Even when someone’s actions are unwanted reciprocity typically prompts a conditioned response from us.

…go against the crowd? We all felt peer pressure growing up. Parents worry about kids caving to the pressure of underage drinking, sex, drugs and other behaviors that could be harmful. The pressure to conform never goes away but as we move past the teenage years we call this phenomenon the principle of consensus or social proof. All you have to do is observe an office setting to see how people look around then naturally begin to conform to what they observe. Whether it’s a new initiative at work, dress code, or some cultural norm, people find it hard to go against the crowd because standing out might reflect negatively on them as Robert Cialdini explains in this video from Big Think.

…dismiss expert advice? Your friend tells you to quit smoking and you pay little attention but your doctor tells you and resisting the advice becomes tougher. That’s because the principle of authority is working on your brain. In one study (Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down) brain imaging showed critical thinking almost comes to a halt when a perceived expert is giving advice! But, that same advice from someone with no credentials is easy to ignore.

…change your mind? The pressure to be consistent in what you say and do (principle of consistency) is HUGE. One reason that’s so because changing your mind might mean you have to admit you’ve been wrong. If you’ve held a particular view for a long time then it’s even tougher despite the reality that you’re always learning, growing and evolving in your views. One could make the case that changing one’s mind shows openness, flexibility and perhaps enlightenment but that nagging feeling of having been wrong is very difficult to overcome.

…resist some sales pitches? Buyer’s remorse is all too common. This happens when shortly after a purchase people regret their decision and wonder why they bought what they did. The pressure exerted from the principle of scarcity – fear or losing – is often the driver. There’s a fear that if you don’t buy that smart phone, new car, furniture, or something else, you might not get that good a deal again. Yet, in a moment of clear thinking you’d acknowledge sales are a dime a dozen. But here’s the problem – you’re not thinking clearly when you encounter scarcity. The following quote from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much explains why – “Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.”

For the most part our psychology and conditioning is good because both are meant to help you survive and thrive in a constantly changing environment. But, your subconscious can’t tell when the situation is life or death so it responds just as it did tens of thousands of years ago and that’s why it is so hard to…do many things.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Social Proof in Social Media

 

Not long ago, as I scanned through my social
media sites one morning, I came across a blog post where someone shared six
reasons why they decided to give up alcohol. Curiosity got the best of me so I
clicked on the link to find out why the author made that choice.
All of his reasons were valid and probably the
best choice for him. What caught my attention more than his reasons were the comments
that ensued. At the time I read the post, all 15 comments were from people who
had also given up alcohol. There wasn’t one person who took the opposing view.
I decided to post a comment about why I choose
to drink alcohol. To every point he shared I could make the opposite case as
long as the drinking was in moderation. Despite the fact that according to a 2012
Gallup Poll 64% of Americans
drink alcohol on occasion, I felt odd posting my comment because I was
definitely in the minority.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that despite
the fact that two out of three Americans drink, all the readers said they
didn’t drink. As I thought about it two reasons came to mind.
The first reason was social proof (aka
consensus or peer pressure). This principle of influence tells us the more
people do something the more inclined others are to join in. In other words, we
get our cues for socially acceptable behavior by looking at how others are
behaving in the same situation.
This was a classic case of social proof in
action because the more people posted about their experience, the more others
felt free to do the same thing.  It’s not
just that other people posted that made the difference, it was that all the
posts were similar. You see, when we notice the behavior of people we view as
similar to us that magnifies the feeling that we should behave in the same way.
For example, if a teen sees a large group of
people doing something do you think they’re more inclined to follow suit if
that large group consists of other teenagers or adults? Teenagers, of course.
Another reason the comments gained traction
was due to liking. We tend to like those we see as similar to ourselves in some
way so readers seeing the author had a similar stance on alcohol made them like
him more and, therefore, made it easier for them to post.
Social media is amazing for so many reasons. At
my age I can easily recall the days before mobile phones, the Internet and
social media. Soon younger people won’t have any recollection of those days and
therefore might not marvel at the technology the way some of us do.
However, despite all the good social media can
do, sometimes it doesn’t change human behavior much. Prior to social media, and
still today, I bet you hang around people who are similar to you. Take politics
for example. My guess is the vast majority of your friends hold essentially the
same political views as you do. Being similar generally makes for less
contentious conversations and better times for the majority of people.
That same trigger applies to those with whom
we connect on social media, the blogs we read, the news stations we watch, and
so on. There’s nothing wrong with this but the more time goes by the more
entrenched we become in our viewpoints. Knowing our point of view isn’t always
correct, isn’t it worth it to stretch ourselves some?
Here’s my advice – make it a point to get
together on occasion with people who are different than you. If you watch Fox
News take a look at CNN sometimes, and if you’re a CNN person, watch Fox News.
Believe me, it won’t kill you. Follow some blogs or people you know who hold
different opinions than you do, if for no other reason than to try to
understand their perspective. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Why 1 in 3 Americans Might be Cheating on their Taxes

This is the second time in recent months I’ve found myself riding the coattails of Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and most recently, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.

With the approach of April 17, the last day to file taxes  in the United States, Ariely wrote a blog post on Taxes and Cheating. There’s an old saying from Ben Franklin, “There are only two certainties in life, death and taxes,” and apparently people would like to “cheat” both.
Cheating on taxes was in the headlines several years ago because Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary for the United States, was questioned by Congress for failing to pay about $40,000 in taxes while he worked for the International Monetary Fund. On the surface it’s easy to conclude if people see someone cheating on their taxes they’re more likely to do so as well but is that supported by hard evidence? This question prompted Ariely and colleagues to conduct a little experiment to see if more people would cheat when they saw others cheating.
I’ll leave to you to read Ariely’s blog post on the subject if you want details on the experiment but for our purposes I’ll simply note the results – people cheated more when they saw others cheat. And, there was more likelihood of cheating when the cheaters were similar in some way (i.e., went to the same college) to those who observed them cheating.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, Ariely’s conclusion should not surprise you because it’s simply an application of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consensus, otherwise known as social proof or peer pressure. This principle of influence tells us we are influenced by the actions of others. The more people that are involved, the more we are influenced or the more similar we see those others to ourselves, the more we are influenced by their behavior.
For example, kids will be influenced to smoke when they see other people smoke, such as their parents. However, when teens have two or three friends who smoke, the odds that they’ll take up the bad habit are astronomically higher than the example set by parents. Why? Because they take their cues on how to act far more from their peers because they want to fit into that social group. Thus we get the term “peer pressure.”
Here’s another experiment to convince you. Trick-or-treaters in Seattle were observed on Halloween. When a single child came up to the door, he or she was told to only take one piece of candy; then the parent walked away. The child now has a dilemma; he knows what to do but also knows he could get away with taking more than one piece and no one will be the wiser. Only 7.5% broke the parent’s rule and took more than one piece of candy. Not bad.
It gets interesting when the kids came to the door in groups. With the same set of instructions, more than 20% of kids took extra candy! Why did the number almost triple? Simple; when that small percentage of kids who would take extra even if alone were observed by their friends, the friends decided they too should get more candy. This is a classic example of peer pressure that parents are always warning kids about.
It’s no coincidence that I posted this the day before Americans are supposed to have their taxes filed and paid this year. In 2001 it was estimated 30%-40% of Americans cheated on their taxes shortchanging the government about $345 billion and more recent estimates are still in that range! With record deficits we need every penny to pay down our debt but how can the government expect the average citizen to be honest if the person running the U.S. Treasury is either dishonest or too inept to understand the tax code? You and I can’t solve that one but at least we can be more cognizant of consensus in both how to ethically use it, and avoid its potential negative impact on us.
P.S.
This wasn’t as taxing to write as you might think.
If you’re viewing this by email and want to listen to the audio version click here. If you want to leave a comment click here.

Brian, CMCT
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear
“Yes”.