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     The Friendship Factor

Friendship takes time -- time to CULTIVATE and time to MAINTAIN. It requires an emotional investment fueled by commitment. And it carries responsibilities, as all relationships do. Choosing wisely is a key to maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

Relationship problems often occur when there isn’t an adequate DEFINITION for friendship. Some will find themselves becoming people collectors. They don’t have the heart to say no when people invade their time, but then wonder why they are disorganized or unproductive. Then there are those who purposely shun you to avoid any kind of involvement. These relationship avoiders can range from being cold to rude. Sadly, this group misses out on opportunities to form meaningful relationships, making connections both personally and professionally that would be beneficial.

Health and well-being reside somewhere BETWEEN these two extremes. These people can juggle both the inviter and the intruder. They make friends easily and keep them. They add to their stash any time they want or cash them in to make room for another who is interesting or productive. What brings about these skills? KNOWLEDGE, properly applied.

These folks know how to properly PLACE people in their lives. They know themselves, their needs, and how to meet them. They know how to maintain relationships that are mutually satisfying. They AVOID people problems, partly due to experience and partly because they have learned how to blend.

ATTRACTION to people happens on several levels: personal needs and wants, or a desire related to the admiration or power of an individual. Maybe we have similar values, or they are just fun to be around. Perhaps we have situational needs, like a tennis partner to play with or a ride to night school. The reasons to pursue relationships are endless. A skillful handler of people however, knows two things:
  • discernment is necessary to DISCRIMINATE between the different types of relationships life offers

  • AWARENESS of their personal needs is key
We do not have time for everyone who would like to be in our life. Likewise not everyone will have time for us to be in his or her life. You don’t need to explain, argue or defend your right to CHOOSE who gets into your life, nor do they. Boundaries, however, require IDENTIFICATION of your immediate needs and rights, language ability, and a defense strategy.

People we see regularly and acknowledge with a smile, nod, or a quick glance followed by a quicker hello are ACQUAINTANCES. Every relationship starts out in this category: friends, neighbors, classmates, golf partners, clients, and our mate.

We move from an acquaintance stage of interaction to a CASUAL friendship when small talk deepens to include more personal issues because trust is perceived. We talk about what we think or feel rather than the world around us. Trust is earned. Once determined, we can safely move to the next level of relationship, if desired.

Close friend develops gradually. LIKE-MINDEDNESS, similar attitudes and values bring people closer. Friends at this level have grown to a place of trust to share their frustrations, mistakes, and even their successes, which add to the depth of friendship. Shared character traits such as discretion, confidentiality, integrity, compassion and honesty determine the degree of relationship depth, therefore like feels safe with like. Those shared beliefs and VULNERABILITY are the glue that binds them together.

Finally, that mystical “one good friend before you die” is in this status -- your BEST or dearest friend. These traits are the often the same characteristics found in our mates. However our “best” friend status often has shared intimacies that are not shared with spouses. It’s true that genders can share things with friends that their mates have only a slight interest in. No one person can be all things to all people; so MANY types of friends make for a rich life.

Then there are people who are in our life professionally, or through associations such as church or non-profit involvements. These relationships are based on COMMON INTERESTS, not personal needs. We may like them, but take away the ACTIVITY or cause, and there is little to sustain a long-term friendship. It’s possible for a relationship to be nurtured from this state to a more personal one. But it’s wise to take inventory first, making an honest evaluation about the types of interests and character traits shared. By not doing so, we wind up with clutter in our relationship category.

Jewel Diamond Taylor, author and speaker, said, “Life will change without your permission. Your health, business, family, money or job can take a turn.” I’d like to add to this list the category of friendship. Relationships can TURN BAD. We may have lacked discernment or skills to set better boundaries, emotionally or intellectually. Some people can become a nuisance and subtle hints or assertive chats aren’t working. We feel a need to narrow our relationship base with them or end it all together. De-cluttering our network of friends is a good idea if you know the relationship just isn’t working anymore.

Where there is a lack of genuine INTEREST, there is no friendship factor. You have the option to create a strategy to move that person to another area of your life, (acquaintance or casual), or dissolve the relationship all together. This is learning to MANAGE relationships. Avoidance or wishing it were different is not good judgment. Living proactively is putting safety first, and beneficial for your well-being.

Regardless of the reason for wanting to REDUCE your networks, the steps that led into friendship are the same steps that will lead you out. 
  • Phone less and when you do, reduce the TIME spent chatting, (or listening.) Do not ask questions or allow her to elaborate on anything personal. Find a reason to hang up.

  • Show gradually decreasing INTEREST in her world.

  • Create plans ahead of time so that when you are invited to do something with her, you are genuinely BUSY.

  • Decrease invitations to your gatherings.

  • Do not respond to innuendos with kindness but address each situation ASSERTIVELY. Think ahead so you can be courtesy, but protect yourself. Treat her with respect, yet expect the same…and don’t back down.
  • If she stops over unannounced, when you open the door, smile and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t visit today”. Be FIRM. Do not add, “another time perhaps”. If she insists she’ll stay just a minute, be insistent back, reiterating that it’s not a good time. Do not APOLOGIZE. Show self-assurance and control. Repeat this as many times as it takes for the light to dawn.

Susan Polis Schutz wrote,

“Friendship is someone who...
  • is concerned with everything you do
  • you can call upon during good and bad times
  • understands whatever you do
  • tells you the truth about yourself
  • knows what you are going through at all times
  • does not compete with you
  • is genuinely happy for you when things go well
  • tries to cheer you up when things don’t go well
  • is an extension of yourself without which you are not complete.”

  • (The Language of Friendship, Blue Mountain Press © 1999)  If this doesn’t describe your friendships, it’s time to DETOX.


© 2005 Pamela Occhino. All rights reserved. Pamela Occhino specializes in communication strategies for the 21st Century. Her newsletter, 21st Century Communications, is on the launch pad for spring 2006. For FREE tips, tactics and techniques to connect with our media savvy, generationally mixed and diverse culture, send an email with “subscribe” in the subject line to .

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