Peer pressure discipline…

…doesn’t work.

A friend of mine was just telling me about how his 7-year-old daughter came home from school mad because they didn’t get to go outside for recess. They were made to stay inside because one of their classmates was acting out.

The theory of this approach is peer pressure discipline. The idea is that this will teach the classmates to take on the role of telling those who act out that they need to stop or else they’ll all suffer.

But it doesn’t work. This isn’t the first time this has happened to her class, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The problem is that people at any age, but especially that young age, aren’t inclined to speak out. Speaking out involves confrontation and the ability to mete out appropriate consequences. Neither of these are things people are very good at.

It also spreads out the punishment across a group of people who weren’t doing anything wrong. This dilutes the power of the punishment, rendering the message meaningless to the person for whom it was most intended.

I’ve experienced this on a professional level. We had a person coming in chronically late. Instead of sitting with that person and reviewing attendance expectations with them, the manager sat everyone down to tell them everyone needs to start coming in on time.

The problem with this approach is that everyone who is coming in on time gets angry and resents being told to stop doing something they’re not doing. And more often than not, the person for whom the message is intended isn’t paying attention or doesn’t realize the message was intended for them.

In fact, it tells them they’re not the only one doing it, and they are free to continue because they won’t be singled out.

Confrontation of an issue is very difficult for people to do. This is one reason why personnel management is so difficult. Only a minority of managers, in my experience, have  what it takes to confront an issue and work with the relevant person (or people) toward a conclusion.

If you want to effectively manage people, you need to confront issues as soon as they arise with only the person(s) involved in or affected by the issue.

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