Your Peers Shape Your Personality Towards Your Strengths



“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here’s another lens to use when you think about the role your peers played in shaping your personality.  When we think of “peer pressure,” it’s easy to think of the negative.

Obviously, this depends on who you hang with and their habits and practices whether the peer pressure is negative or not.

There’s another side though.  When you were growing up, your peers actually helped shape your personality towards your strengths.  Think about it like this.  Your peers got to spend more time with you on a regular basis and you got to test your intrinsic abilities and personality on a regular basis.  Were you really funny?  Did you have interesting ideas? Did you succeed through hard-work and discipline?  This was your testing ground for shaping who you are.

To put it another way, it’s nature’s way of  helping you win and find your niche in a Darwin world.

In the book Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance , Marcus Buckingham writes about the research and conclusions in the roles of nature and nurture in shaping your personality.

The Instructions Written into Your Biological Design Specs

Nature has a formula for how your peers shape your personality towards your strengths.

Buckingham writes:
These, then, were the instructions written into your biological design specs when you were born, which we can state as follows:

  1. Pay very close attention to what your childhood peers think of you.
  2. Identify where you have some preexisting strengths in relation to these peers.
  3. Build on these strengths, and then …
  4. Permanently skew your personality toward these strengths while you are still a young teenager”

You’re Wired to Seek Out Your Peer Group for Feedback

You’re wired to use your peers to find your strengths.

Buckingham writes:

“This is tremendously valuable information for you as a child, since it helps you learn where you have the best chance to compete successfully as an adult. 

So from birth through early adolescence, you are wired, as are all humans in all cultures, to seek out feedback from your peer group as to where your relative strengths lie.”

Your Peers are the Most Reliable Source of Information

It’s not about peer pressure.  That’s only temporary.  Instead, your peers are the most reliable information about you.

Buckingham writes:

“Not peers in the clichéd sense of peer pressure.  You may well have felt some peer pressure going up, but if you did, this will have affected only your behavior and your values, and probably only temporary. 

Peer pressure of this kind will not affect your underlying personality.
I mean peers in the sense that your peers are the most reliable source of information about you, and in particular, about what your true strengths are in the world outside your home. 

Your peers will tell you accurately (far more accurately than your family will) if and who you can dominate, if you’re funny, if and when you’re a good ally, if your ideas are interesting, if your ideas are practical, if you are trustworthy, and so on.”

This System Continues to Do Its Work Throughout Your Childhood and Early Adolescence

Buckingham writes:

“While you are picking up on these clues about your strengths, a second system kicks in. 

This system pushes you to seek out situations where you can play to these strengths, and these repeated behaviors cause material changes in your brain development, which in turn cause you to play to your strengths still more. 

This system continues to do its work throughout your childhood and early adolescence.  Then, once you reach your mid teens, it locks these changes in.”

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  1. Looking back over the last few years, I believe that the groups of people I was in had one of the biggest influences in how I developed as a person. I met lots of cool people and great business professionals, and interacting with them boosted just about everything in my life.

    This must be the reason I’m so picky now with my social circle 🙂

  2. I cannot remember what my teenager peers thought of me but I can crystal clear remember that my teacher told me I am a sabotage guy. She told the rest of the class they support sabotage.
    What kind of strenght it could be and where could I take it?.. except jail 😉

  3. Our peers has indeed a huge influence over the formation of our personality. Most of the time though, we cannot distinguish good peers from the bad ones. Our tendency is to fit in and not to make an analysis of whether our peers will evolve us for the better or not. 🙂

  4. @ Eduard — I think hanging with the right packs is a very strong key to success. Sure you can succeed on your own, but I find that my best growth came from being on high performing teams.

    @ Alik — It sounds like she was a real sweet talker 🙂

    @ Walter — I think if you find folks that share your core values, it’s a good fit with lots of flexibility. For example, at work I thrive when I’m surrounded by people that focus on growth, excellence, and teamwork.

  5. Hi JD .. I’d have loved to have been able to know this research when I was a kid .. in fact I became defensive, withdrawn .. shy .. so I wasn’t open to receive – this was a parental ‘directive’ .. ie difficulties they had & thus borne on to us .. it took me into my forties to realise and move on .. perhaps that’s why I love the learning now – we weren’t encouraged to question. However I had a great childhood .. we had opportunities as kids many didn’t – not money, but experiences of the garden, plants, vegetables, animals etc .. but that closing of the personality has made life tricky. Something seeped through .. and we weren’t downtrodden or anything and they wanted us to achieve .. but perhaps that openness of love wasn’t there .. it was more of a Victorian upbringing .. not so rigid .. but enough so.

    Interesting .. however I am here and I have the best of everything ahead and the opportunities that are there .. that I can take and grow with, even now .. Many thanks – really interesting .. Hilary

  6. I also like to take it to the next level. These strengths are important, but sometimes they aren’t aligned with our needs. I prefer to work with my superpowers where my strengths, passions and focus are. We need to use our peers to help guide us, but we must also learn to follow our hearts.

  7. Interesting. I’ll have to let this one sink in a little. Certainly I can see that peers can enforce patterns. I can remember when I got positive feedback from my peers, but not necessarily directly.
    A little late for skewing in my teenage years.

    I’m wondering if he gives any time to evaluating the form your strengths take. For example, someone could be really good at lying or having a poker face. That can take many forms, some positive and some negative when judged from a societal point of view.

    Seems that your peers are not quite as invested in giving you certain information either, like a family which might skew it. I’m often said that it’s easier for others to see thing you can’t. You are often too close to have the proper perspective.

  8. @ Hilary — It’s worth a read if you get the chance because it helps explain the pattern of strengths. The beauty is that we all have a unique pattern of strengths that we can leverage. It’s basically a more deliberate way to make the most of what you’ve got.

    @ Karl — That’s the key — knowing when you’re playing to your strengths and when you aren’t. Whenever I have to play outside of my strengths, I can do so, but I get drained and it’s not sustainable. I can quickly get my energy back because I know where to look for my strengths.

    @ Rob — Good point on the perspective of how you can use your strengths for good or evil, just like the force. I think one way to use your past is to quickly flip back through it and look for the patterns where your strengths shined through, regardless of whether it was a positive or negative scenario … in fact, negative might be even more revealing of your greatest strengths.

  9. […] At least that’s what Marcus says, in his book, and I don’t think he’s making it up. (Studies, research, formal stuff like that seem to be involved here.) [Read more about that concept here.] […]

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