Has Peer Pressure gotten a bum rap?

The statistics on high school peer pressure are crazy. In California, laws are getting written up against bullying because it's become such a problem. Among parents, any discussion can get focused pretty quickly on negative peer pressure if your children are the right age. But is all peer pressure negative? Or has it gotten a bum rap?

Every day I manage a group of highly talented staff that are some of the smartest around. But not everyone on the team has great days. They know it, and they know that I know it. But if I spent each day pushing and prodding them (calling it coaching) when they weren't up to par, the result would be less engagement not more. Right? So instead of that direct push, instead of that direct pressure, I leverage peer pressure.

Three Helpful Tips to Leveraging Peer Pressure

Here are the three tricks I use, that I find to be the most helpful:

  1. Keep the group dynamic fun and light. I know that if my team is having fun and enjoying themselves the pressure won't make the environment negative. Peer pressure can have its way most effectively when the rest of the environment and context isn't negative. So on my daily calls with our staff, I keep things fun, fresh, and joke a lot. It never stops our agenda – I still ask for status updates – but there's enough laughter on the call to help set an overall tone of fun.
  2. Get updates on progress daily. I know some people hate the idea of daily meetings – especially because they become boring and frustrating if you have nothing to say. But that's really the point. If one person on the team has nothing to say for too many days in a row, the silent pressure has its natural consequence of applying pressure. Peer pressure in this case is positive. It encourages people to “look” around the room at their peers and do a quick self check to make sure they're performing equally with their peers.
  3. Fit the work (and pressure) within the context of a greater story. I know I repeat myself often when I say it's all about story and the story you're telling, but it is. Peer pressure, when used correctly, helps people feel pressured to complete something. To participate in something. Just make sure they know what that something is. Ground the work and the pressure in the larger context of what's going on. If they connect with the mission and vision, they'll connect with the story. If they connect with the story, they'll accept the pressure and use it positively.

Social Pressure is Going Mobile

What I'm most excited about in the realm of positive peer pressure is a start-up that one of my closest friends is working on, Astrid, that will bring positive peer pressure to smart phones. By letting my staff create tasks quickly on their phones and mark them complete, Astrid will enable a “wall of fame” and “wall of shame” (lightheartedly) to highlight who is getting their stuff done. This is a little thing, but when your team is virtual, a virtual wall of fame may be all you need to help get people going.

How do you use Peer Pressure?

I love the idea of social pressure because it matches what I use at work every day. What about you? How do you use peer pressure?

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.