As kids we were often told that peer pressure was bad. It could lead us to make bad, or even dangerous decisions, or make us do things we didn't want to do in order to fit in. We succumb to peer pressure because intrinsically we all want to be accepted, and that can lead to others influencing what we do and how we act.
But away from the playground, peer pressure can actually be a positive thing. When we use others' influence to keep us on track or to push us to overcome challenges, that pressure to please or impress our peers can hold us to account and help us achieve our goals.
By reframing peer pressure as shared accountability, we can help build resilient, collaborative teams that reinforce and support each other.
How to enable positive peer pressure
Praise the process not the person
Feedback is personal but we should take care to make sure that the delivery of it is as non-judgemental as possible. It should be clear, honest, direct and humble, and create distance between the behaviours you have observed and the person, allowing them to explore the impact of their actions (or inaction) in a more objective way. Offering honest feedback, without a side serving of blame or judgement, is the difference between forced progress and shared accountability.
Focus on outcomes not outputs
Goal setting consistently delivers positive change to the lives of individuals because it provides focus and direction. But change can be hard and the goals we set ourselves can begin to feel unachievable if progress isn’t made quickly enough or we feel we’re failing.
We are not machines, and often our intended goal may change and shift depending on the process we take to get there or the context we find ourselves in. True accountability partners know this and offer encouragement of any positive outcome that moves us closer to our goal; they focus on the bigger picture and how we want to feel, rather than analysing outputs that may never add up to real change.
Use accountability to drive productivity
In order to be productive, we need to stay on track despite all of the curveballs our role might throw at us. Feeling accountable to someone else creates an ‘expectation of evaluation’ (Lerner and Tetlock, 1999) and is a powerful motivator.
It’s the principle that fitness apps like Strava are built on, with the wider community keeping individuals accountable to their goals and motivating them to be more productive by awarding each other kudos. The same can be replicated in real life, in the workplace, with accountability partners helping to inspire and motivate each other to do whatever they want or need to achieve.
Read more about peer pressure and accountability in our report, Peer Power: Building a culture of connection and collaboration in the new world of work