A Lesson on Peer Pressure

Despite her enthusiasm, Pat was a little late getting to the coffee shop on Friday. It had been a good week, but a very busy one for her and her team. She saw Coach Smith sitting at a table reading as she approached the counter to get her drink. As she made her way over to his table she noticed he was wearing a walking boot.

“Coach, what happened to your foot?” she asked with a concerned tone in her voice.

He replied, “I broke my ankle many years ago and sometimes it flares up. When it does, it’s easierr me to use the old walking boot than to hobble around. It’s nothing to worry about,” he said with his familiar smile. Then he asked Pat, “How was your week?” 

Pat began to recount more personal victories which brought an even wider smile to Coach’s face. After she finished sharing she eagerly asked, “What’s next on our agenda?” 

“Do you remember when you were a child and your mother warned you about peer pressure?” he inquired.

“Yes, mom was always warning me not to go jump off a bridge just because my friends might be doing it,” she recounted with a chuckle.

Coach said, “What parents like your mom are describing with peer pressure is actually called social proof. This psychological concept describes how natural it is for us to look to others to see how we should behave in different situations. We’re much more impacted by what other people are doing, how they’re feeling, and what they’re thinking, than we realize. We’ve been wired this way from the beginning of time to up our odds of survival because there’s safety in numbers.” 

With an inquisitive look Pat replied, “I always looked at peer pressure as negative.”

Coach went on, “Most of the time, the way the term is used, it’s negative. However, it can be used for good. An example from my coaching days that you may recall was looking to other teams that we aspired to be like. I would always call out those teams and tell you ladies what they were doing because I wanted to inspire you to do the same. Do you remember that?” 

“I certainly do but I didn’t understand the psychology behind it. Of course we wanted to be like those teams that were in divisions above us that were so consistently good,” Pat replied as she sipped her cappuccino. 

Coach Smith continued, “The key is to point people to the behaviors that you want people to emulate. Too often people misuse the psychology.”

Pat asked, “How do they misuse it?”

“Too often they point to what lots of people are doing when the behaviors are the wrong thing to do. That only sets in the mind of the listeners that maybe those behaviors are something they should be doing too. For example, if a teacher laments how many students are cheating he probably sets in the minds of other students, ones who would not otherwise consider cheating, that maybe they can get away with cheating too. The teacher’s attempt to use the psychology backfires and gets the opposite behavior that the teacher wants.”

Pat asked, “So I always want to look to others whose behaviors we want to model as a motivating factor?”

“Absolutely!” Coach replied enthusiastically. “And here’s something else to consider; when lots of people are doing something that’s certainly motivating. However, it’s much more motivating when you can point to others who are most similar to the people that you’re trying to influence.”

“So, if I understand you correctly,” Pat began, “Then I should look to other companies who have learning departments about our size and, if possible, within our industry?”

“Absolutely!” Coach said again. “It won’t do you any good to compare yourself to a mega corporation because your team will feel that your company doesn’t have the same technology, people power, resources, and other things to emulate the big boys. But, if you look at companies who are a little further ahead on the curve than yours and consider what they’re doing, I’m sure your team will think, ‘If they can do it we can do it too.’ Make sense?”

Paraphrasing Coach back at him, with a smile and a wink, Pat replied, “Absolutely!” 

Looking at her with the look of contentment at having taught her well, Coach Smith said, “It seems like you have a handle on this lesson. I need to cut our time a little short today because I’m going to stop by the doctor to have her check out my ankle just to be safe. Same time next week?”

Pat replied, “Short of a vacation to Hawaii, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Coach laughed and told her, “If I get an opportunity to go to Hawaii, as much as I enjoy our time together, I’ll take that trip too.” With that they stood up, hugged and went their separate ways.


  1. And Now for Something Completely Different
  2. Coach’s Lesson on Liking
  3. Game Time for Pat
  4. Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity
  5. Tis Better to Give
  6. A Lesson on Peer Pressure
  7. Putting Peer Pressure to Work at Work
  8. A Trusted Expert
  9. Becoming a Respected Leader
  10. Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment
  11. Less Directive
  12. Wins and Losses
  13. Don’t be a Downer
  14. Self-sacrifice
  15. Pay it Forward

Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 400,000 people around the world.


1 reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.