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.
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 Selling, Persuasive 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.