Do you remember when you were young how simple it was to find a best friend?
I remember around the 3rd or 4th grade – my teacher randomly assigned me a seat behind a girl in class whose name was also Denise. Naturally, it was love at first name.
Of course, that was then, and now we’re all grown up.
As adults, there is a lot more that goes into deciding who we’ll let inside our circle – and for good reason. Every relationship, big or small, has an impact on our personal lives, as well as our professional lives. When we surround ourselves with positive influences – we feel empowered and inspired; when we come into contact with a Negative-Nelly, it can lead us down an unhealthy path of internalized negativity.
Guilty by Association
You may be familiar with the adage, “A man is known by the company he keeps,” which stems from one of Aesop’s fables, “The Ass and His Purchaser.”
The fable tells a story of a man who wants to test-drive a donkey before purchasing. The seller agrees to the trial (how very entrepreneurial), and the man brings the donkey home to join several other donkeys he already owns. When he places the animal among the others, he notices that the donkey cozies up to the laziest donkey in the group. The man decides: “I do not need a trial; I know that he will be just the same as the one he chose for his companion.”
While it might not seem fair, people judge each other much the same way. Our behaviors, thoughts, and values are associated with that of the people we spend the most time. If you hang around a colleague that acts negatively, you will ultimately be lumped right in with her. Same goes for friends in your social circle as well.
Then again, who cares what people think?!
It’s Not All Blind Judgement and Assumptions
Well, before you get all ‘you know what you do when you assume’ on me – research shows our behaviors (good, bad or indifferent) tend to mirror that of our friends.
In this study, “(Im)moral Support: The Social Outcomes of Parallel Self-Control Decisions,” researchers found that peer compliance reduces guilt – meaning, we are more likely to act on impulse when we have a ‘partner in crime.’
There’s also this eye-opening TED talk, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” by Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist, whose research suggests our decisions are, in fact, influenced by our friends and even more so by friends of our friends.
Choosing Friends Wisely
If our relationships with people are going to have such a colossal impact on our lives and our careers – we should probably try to choose those friends wisely.
As I consider my close relationships – I find that the people I make the strongest connections with tend to address these three needs:
They are better than me.
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. I like to spend time with people that I look up to – and admire. My friends are strong in areas where I am weak; likely sitting in the role I hope to occupy someday. Not just friends, but role models.
They encourage and support.
These are the people that genuinely want to see me happy and successful. They offer a hand when things start to get overwhelming; an ear when I need to knock a few ideas around; and constructive criticism when those ideas are less than stellar.
They don’t just get it; they go-get-it.
Who better to connect with an over-achiever than another over-achiever who understands my desire to work hard and persevere, because they are out there doing it, too. While we may be chasing different dreams, they join me in the pursuit of further knowledge, development, and growth.
Pay It Forward
The one thing more important than finding (and keeping) great friends is being a great friend yourself! Remember, relationships are two-sided. We don’t achieve success alone. Surround yourself with people who bring out your best and surround those people with the love and support that will bring out their best.