Vital Friends: The People You Can't Afford to Live Without

I’ve just finished reading Tom Rath’s Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. I have not read his prior bestselling “How Full is Your Bucket?”, but I found Vital Friends to be a remarkably informative book.

The book’s premise is that you need a certain number of quality friends in order to be successful, even in other areas of life where your friends don’t follow. Rath focuses primarily on the friendships developed in the workplace, but he also spends time talking about regular friendships outside of work, and the friendship between a husband and wife. The book is called Vital Friends to help distinguish between the now-loosely used term “friend”. Considering the ridiculous abuse of this word in modern society, especially among social network websites like MySpace and Friendster, he chooses instead to use the words “Vital Friends”. He defines a vital friend as “someone who measurably improves your life” or “a person at work or in your personal life whom you can’t afford to live without”. He also uses objective litmus test questions to help you determine who among your friends are vital friends. If this person were no longer around, would your overall satisfaction with life decrease? If this person were no longer a part of your life, would your achievement or engagement at work decrease? It truly makes you think about every friend you have.

He quotes some interesting studies, one of which points out that friendships are not designed to be well-rounded. It is damaging to focus on what our friends do not bring to the friendship, but that we should instead focus on what they do bring to the relationship. Like a marriage, the combination of differing strengths is what makes a friendship grow and mature, not the negative focus on differences. He notes that people with at least three close friends at work were 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their life.

To that end, he says we should analyze our friendships and try to figure out what each person brings to our life. Based on extensive studies from the Gallop Organization’s research, his team breaks down friends into eight vital roles: Builder, Champion, Collaborator, Companion, Connector, Energizer, Mind Opener, and Navigator. I won’t go into detail about those here - you’ll have to read the book. If you buy the book, you’ll receive a special code that allows you to use the Vital Friends website to help you categorize your friends. The book is necessary though to help understand what the assessment determines. You answer a series of 65 timed questions using the 1 to 5 scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree. You then have an opportunity to email the results to your friends so they can get in on the action. I’m sending it off to about eight people, so I’ll be curious how they respond.

I’m sure some people will balk and question the idea of analyzing friendships. But, for me at least, I found it very helpful and it helped me to see that some people who I might have called a good friend were maybe not so helpful to my overall well-being and development as a person. I also discovered other people who I should be spending more time developing a sharper relationship with. One of the other points Rath made I found to be of interest. During our teenage years, we spend nearly one-third of our time with friends, but that for the rest of our lives, the average time spent with friends is less than ten percent.

Some friends find it discomforting to talk about what they bring to a relationship; they don’t want to be quantified in that manner. But the healthy thing about taking the time to do this is that, in reality, you can become a better friend to your friends if you know what need you are fulfilling in their life. So both parties mutually benefit.

For all I’ve discussed the nature of friendships and relationships here, I found his book to be freshly insightful. I think that too many people it would be a great benefit to read it and to make some changes in their relationships with people that will only help to benefit them in the long run. If you hate your job, this book is especially for you and can give you lots of information that will better your job performance (or your decision to change jobs or careers).

Technorati : books, friends, people, relationships

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