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All About You: Curb the negative power of peer pressure

Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Making safety fun has been my mission for over 40 years. Whether speaking, consulting or working in the field as I am now, I strive to have fun as a safety and health pro and help other pros do the same. However, at times, peer pressure in the form of co-workers thinking I should be sterner and more reserved has made this difficult – or at least made me feel pressured to be more traditional in my approach.

Peer pressure typically is most intense when we’re teens. We’ve all experienced it. Include your immediate family in the peer mix, and we’re “pressured” from the cradle to the grave.

The general definition of peer pressure from the Oxford Dictionary is “pressure from people of your age or social group to behave like them to be liked or accepted.” Most other sources give peer pressure a similar negative slant.

I believe that, in some instances, peer pressure can be highly positive. I’ve associated with mastermind groups that have lifted my spirits, given me delightful insights and pushed me to become a better professional speaker.

But other times I’ve experienced the opposite, and the people I was hanging out with negatively influenced me.

Here’s what has helped me suppress the negative power of peer pressure.

Avoiding or dealing with negative people in the workplace

Although you don’t always have a choice when you’re at work, try when you can to associate with upbeat and positive colleagues. They’ll boost your energy, just as negative people will drain it. It’s also helpful to recognize the influence people have on you. You can sense it. Making an objective observation about your emotions after you end an interaction with someone will let you know how much their personality influences you.

I had a colleague I worked with for about three years who complained profusely and was always in a miserable mood. After a few hours of working with him on a project, I could tell I was feeling down. After a full day with him, I’d arrive home feeling downtrodden and emotionally exhausted.

It wasn’t until I recognized how he was affecting me that I started to handle his company better. Whenever he’d start to complain, I’d tactfully change the subject. I also started joking with myself about his negative comments. Eventually, my “peer pressure” had an effect, and he started acting more reasonably at times and was even upbeat.

Know why you’re acting differently

There’s a fine line between “being your true self” and “fitting in.” But it’s an important one. If I have to act contrary to my nature constantly, I’ll eventually be miserable and hate my circumstances. On the other hand, if my silly and fun-loving personality isn’t appropriate in certain scenarios, it could negatively affect my career as a safety pro. So, what’s a person to do?

Although I know there are social norms I must adhere to (I can’t just pull out my harmonica and start playing during a meeting because I feel like it!), I also know from extensive research and experience that when people enjoy themselves and have fun, they perform better. So, I can tell colleagues who question my behavior why and how that’s so.

Don’t let the fear created by peer pressure dominate your behavior. Throughout history, great innovators and others who have injected powerful influences into human society are often considered outliers. If everyone just followed the crowd and only cared about fitting in, there would be little innovation and new ideas would be rare.

You don’t have to let peer pressure quell what you know works or severely tamper your personality. To paraphrase Shakespeare, one of the best ways to live is to “be true to yourself.”

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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