One of the easiest ways to determine what is correct is by doing what other people are doing.

Or to say what other people are saying.

Or to think what other people are thinking.

Social proofing as a persuasion tool works well to keep individuals in line because individuals like to be part of a tribe. We all don’t want to be alone. And the lack of effort that we put into social proofing proves it’s worth.

When we understand this bedrock principle of human behavior we can begin to think of the work of self-awareness, conflict management, a business storytelling differently.

Less should self-awareness be about pushing our “I’m right” on people who have decided to go along with the crowd and who aren’t interested in hearing about our “I’m right.”

Instead, self-awareness becomes the act of either making ourselves better in spite of the tenor of the crowd or taking an action that might cause the crowd to leave us—or stay with us.

Less should conflict management under the principles of social proofing be about making sure everyone “gets along” or that agreements are mutually beneficial.

Instead, conflict management becomes the act of letting some conflicts happen because they need to break the dominant cultural behavior encouraged and normed through social proofing.

Or, conflict management becomes the act of changing the approaches to the conflict itself by promoting conflict as a positive norm, rather than as a negative dysfunction.

Less should business storytelling be an act of persuasion based on getting the tribe aligned without individuals thinking about it too much.

Instead, business storytelling becomes an intentional act of organizational culture building that rewards and sanctions behaviors as they become apparent. And, it becomes less an act of verbally telling a story, and more an act of actively living a story.

Social proofing—which leads inevitably to bonding around social norms, which eventually become policies and procedures—is powerful, but not so powerful that leaders can’t intentionally break it and remold it with a little bit of work.

Jesan Sorrells

Jesan Sorrells

Jesan Sorrells is the CEO and Founder of Human Services Consulting and Training and leads on HSCT's flagship product, LeadingKeys. Contact him directly at ceo@hsconsultingandtraining.com