I had a long drive today, so I listened to a book by Tom Rath called Vital Friends– The Eight People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.  This is a great book that points out some facts we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis:

  • Everyone is a specialist- no one person can do it all. No one person, activity, or job will fill all of our needs.  Rather than expect one person to do it all, we need to accept that many friends and family memebers work together to fill our needs.
  • The Power of Relationships is in the Bonds.  Just like we learned in chemistry class, the bonds between molecules have varying strength and varying energy.  Likewise, our bonds with our friends and family members have varying degrees of strength.  But the stronger the bonds, the more energy they can contain.  Sometimes that energy is volitile and dangerous, and other times, it is empowering.  Hopefully, we all have people in our lives who seem to energize us, motivate us, and help us be our very best.  These are the bonds we should cultivate, and try to minimize the more toxic bonds that create drama and chaos in our lives.
  • Friendships require care and nuturing.  I have a friend who is a social networking butterfly.  He knows everyone, but I suspect he knows only a handful of these people deeply.  While it’s exciting to meet new people and connect them up with others, we all have to take care to make time for our “real” friends- those people we trust and count on through thick and thin.  While our true friends will also understand our distractions and our pre-occupations, and often forgive us for our foibles, they won’t do that forever.  We need to tend to these relationships as much as any other in our lives if we want these bonds to remain strong and vital.  Having great friends also means being a great friend in return.
  • Friendships in the Workplace may be discouraged, but they are the pivotal factor in determining employee satisfaction and retention.  If you have a good friend at work, you are more likely to like your job, and stay there, even when some aspects of the job are difficult.  Rules that prohibit friendship between managers and employees might seem like a good idea, but they probably end up being horribly short-sighted.  These friendships help everyone feel better about work, as well as create mentoring opportunities, to create the next great manager or employee.  Moreover, the “bell-ache buddies”- the chronic complainers that bring everyone down, are the relationships that should be discouraged- those who spread negativity are better off finding a place where they are happier.  The poison spread by the unhappiest of employees will cost a business more productivity and good employees than almost anything else.

This is a great book that reminds us all of the tremendous power of friendship, and why we need several friends, not just one, to meet our needs.

I found it amazing to hear about the research that showed a couple’s level for friendship and connection was the biggest factor that determined how happy their marriage was and how likely they were to or not to divorce.  This means that being best friends with your spouse, and expecting them to fulfill some, but not all, of your needs is the best way to ensure happiness.

Much of the information in the book can help you identify not only what needs you have andwho fills them for you, but what needs you fill for others, and how to strengthen those bonds, to play on each other’s strengths to create dynamic and valuable friendships.

In an era when the term “friend”  is often used lightly and casually, Tom Rath shows us that true friendship is what sustains us through the good and bad times in our lives, and is not something to treat cheaply.