The IDEAL: Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience – What they are and How they Impact Trainings?

Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience

(Explanation and Comparison with General and Training-Specific Illustrations.)

Icon of section IDEAL (Instructional Designer's Evolution through Analytical Learning)- Creative Agni ezine.


If you are a trainer, you’ve seen them all – right there in your classroom. Accepting the existence of these behaviors, and understanding them could help you implement your training programs more smoothly.

Let us understand and illustrate each of these.


This term is related to a better-known and often-used term, “conformance”. Conformance is the voluntary adherence to certain popular guidelines. In other words, Conformity is the behavior exhibited by someone who’s trying to fit into a group.
General Example: White covering news, Women Journalists are often seen dressing up according to the local customs,  even in places where they would not be castigated for dressing up as they fancy. They want to fit in…voluntarily.
Training-specific Example: A training participant who doesn’t like discussions, tries to fit into class-discussions because he or she wants to belong to the group.


Compliance is a “forced” adherence to certain principles or guidelines. Thus, when compared to conformance, Compliance has less of voluntariness associated with it. In the human society, compliance too occurs with the purpose of fitting into a group, but it’s more of someone being made to fit in.
General Example: In some good business schools, it’s a practice to specify a dress-code for certain classes (for instance, Business Communication). It’s important that the students follow that dress-code. While everyone understands that they aren’t under any legal obligation to do so, yet they “comply.”
Training-specific Example: When training participants are given specific guidelines with clear indications about how their grades would depend upon their adherence to the guidelines, the participant’s behavior is of compliance.


This term is quite well-understood, and I don’t really have to explain it in a lot of detail. A person demonstrates Obedience when he or she “obeys” instructions, commands, or orders (at times without questioning the intent) given by someone who he or she perceives to have the authority or power, in a particular domain.

General Example: The most common example given to illustrate obedience is that of the Holocaust. The Nazi officers and soldiers responsible for the atrocities committed during the holocaust were obeying the orders of Hiter and their superiors. They weren’t born evil, yet their acts were evil – and they could engage in these acts because they were “obeying” the orders.

Training-specific Example: When the participants perceive the trainer as an authority figure (in the subject area), they are usually at ease while “obeying” instructions. This is also seen in school-classrooms, where the students almost always perceive the teacher as an authority on the subject she or he teaches. This is usually a good thing and reduces dissonance.
(Note:  Every once in a while, you will be addressing a mixed-audience class with the boss sitting right there among the participants. If the boss refuses to play along, your training session could  run amok. It’s easy to see the reason. The participants view the importance of obeying their boss as higher than that of obeying you 🙂