Difference Between Obedience and Compliance

Obedience vs Compliance

When examining the difference between obedience and compliance we can see that there exists a small difference. Words such as obedience, compliance, submission all go together in the same direction, but there are slight differences from one to the other. Simply, obedience is doing what is being told. Compliance is following instructions or else going along. The significant difference is that while in obedience one person is in an authorial position, in compliance this is not the case. This article attempts to highlight this difference through an elaboration of the two words.

What does Obedience mean?

Obedience can be defined as carrying out the orders, instructions or commands of someone in power or authority. All individuals go through different types of obedience in a variety of settings such as schools, work places, etc. In order to obey, a person does not necessarily have to agree with the person in authority or even consider it as correct. The person usually follows orders either to avoid punishments or else to get it over with. Let us try to understand this through an example.

A small child who is playing in the garden is asked to come inside the house and finish off the homework. The child may resist first, but eventually obeys the instructions of the mother. This is not always because the child realizes the importance of doing homework, but to stop being nagged by the mother.

However, it is not always this simple. Let us take a more complex setting. A military officer is commanded to torture a prisoner to get some vital information. The officer may not be comfortable in the act of torturing another human being or even agree with the senior officer who gave the order. Nevertheless, to avoid any negative consequences, the officer has to obey the order of the one in power. This highlights the nature of obedience.

Difference Between Obedience and Compliance

“A military officer has to obey the commands he is given.”

What does Compliance mean?

To comply is to follow instructions. Compliance does not necessarily require an individual in power or authority to give orders. This can be due to the influence of peers, friends and even family. Compliance in this sense is changing the behaviour in accordance to the demands of a social group. In this instance also, the individual may be uncomfortable as he or she disagrees with the others. Yet he would comply with the instructions just to remain within the comfort zone. We can draw on from real life to understand this very well. Imagine a teenager who goes out of his way just because the friends desired it. This is compliance. It is not an order or command from one who is superior or in an authorial position, still the individual complies.

Difference Between Obedience and Compliance - Example for Compliance

“Students have to comply with the school uniform policy”

What is the difference between Obedience and Compliance?

• Obedience is following orders or instructions of one in power or authority.

• Compliance is following instructions or else going along.

• In both cases, the individual who is subjected to the order or instruction may disagree personally yet carries on with the instructions.

• This significant difference is that while in obedience one person is in an authorial position, in compliance it is not so.


Images Courtesy:

1. Officer via Pixabay

2. Nigeria Students By Dolapo Falola, NY, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons