When we should let others influence our choices

Peer pressure can lead you in the wrong direction, but sometimes you have to let others influence your choices - especially if your decisions impact them, if they have information you don't, or if you risk losing them.

I often envy people who make choices while boldly proclaiming, “I don’t care what other people think!”

Being socially unencumbered is a powerful skill to have when making decisions, specifically because our social groups have a way of influencing us. Research on couples has shown that people make personal choices they think their partners would prefer, even if those choices aren’t what they really want. Other research suggests that in large groups, we can do things that are totally out of character and make decisions we’d never make if alone.

Peer pressure can lead our decisions astray. But I’d stop before saying that we should totally ignore other people’s thoughts or feelings. Instead, it’s important to know when we should let other people's opinions influence us and when we shouldn’t.

Here’s when you should care what other people think about your decisions:

  • When the outcome of your choices might impact them. Sometimes our choices can impact those around us in ways they see but we don’t. So, think objectively about how much of a ripple effect your choice has on others. If people in your life are pressuring you to choose a certain way, ask them what impact the choice might have on them. If that impact is likely and significant, then it’s probably worth considering others’ preferences when deciding what to do.

  • When they have access to information you don’t. Sometimes people in our lives tell us what to do because they know something we don’t. If someone in your life is pressuring you to go a certain direction, ask them to flesh out their rationale. Ask them what evidence or information they have that leads to them to their conclusion. If their opinions are based on solid intel, they might be worth paying attention to.

  • When we fear not belonging. Belonging and connection are intense and natural human needs. They’re why we seek out friend groups, communities, or “tribes.” When we make choices that people connected to us don’t like, they may pull away or even reject us. Before you decide to make a choice that those close to you won’t approve of, evaluate whether they’ll ostracize you if you make it. And if the chances are high that they will, ask yourself whether rejection from that group is a price worth paying for making your own choice.

Letting others make your choices for you isn’t always the best way to go, but automatically rejecting the opinions of others may not always benefit you either. Some choices are worth standing alone for, at least until you find new connections. Whether your choice is worth it is your decision to make.