How Social Comparisons Get in the Way of Success

Professor of Business, Negotiation, and Behavior
When social comparison trickle into the decisions we make, it affects the way we think about the problem or the decision itself.
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TRANSCRIPT

Francesca GinoOne of the factors that derail our decisions has to do with forces from our relationships is due to social comparisons.  Now since we are human beings, whenever we try to evaluate ourselves on several dimensions from how good we are as decision makers to how good we are at solving problems or how creative we are.  We look at others – our peers, colleagues and friends in order to evaluate ourselves.  But those types of social comparisons can come in the way when we are implementing our plans.

So, for example, there is some really interesting research coming out of Kellogg showing the following.  Imagine you’re an MBA student who graduated recently and you’re considering different job offers.  The first offer is with a company that you really like and the job is for $150,000 a year.  This is your base salary.  And you know that your peers, people who graduated from your own program, are also offered similar jobs for the same compensation, $150,000.  Now there is a second job offer that you’re considering and it’s one where this time you’ll be joining a different company but it’s also a company that you very much like.  And the salary’s a little bit higher.  It’s $175,000 – so $25,000 higher than the previous one.  This time you know that other people like you – so peers and graduates from your same program are being offered similar jobs for $185,000.  What the data suggests is that if you were presented with this situation, you would tend to choose the first job – the one that has a lower salary. 

And the reason is that the social comparison that is triggered by the second job is making you feel uneasy.  And so you’d rather go with the job that pays less but knowing that you fare as well when comparing yourself to your peers.  So social comparison can really come in the way of good decision making and can derail us as we implement our plans.  So what should we do about that?  Once again the solution is, in a sense, intuitive but difficult to apply.  As we’re making decisions we should ask ourselves questions about the information that we are using to make those decisions and whether it’s information about ourselves only or social comparisons are trickling in and affecting the way we are thinking about the problem or the decision itself. 

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd