"Friends and Friendship—Personal and Professional" by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President & CEO

Friends and Friendship—Personal and Professional

January 1, 2012 - “The only way to have a friend is to be one,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson more than a century ago. His wisdom is timeless and even more powerful in today’s rapid-paced world of transient relations driven by electronic communication—which tends to remove the human touch.

Friendship is one of the most important things in life. Developing strong, enduring, lifelong relationships helps everyone involved in the relationship. “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship,” shared St. Thomas Aquinas.

“Here I am,” and those who enter and exclaim, “There you are.” The first group is, in general, lonely and insecure. The second group is comfortable, confident and surrounded by genuine friends. Typically, this latter group feels better about themselves, possesses optimism, achieves greater success, and certainly are more agreeable company.

Which type are you? Understanding yourself is the first step in being able to communicate well in order to develop strong and enduring friendships. Self-awareness is difficult because we all want to be liked and welcomed, but we can become self-centered and selfish. Being self-aware of your own personality will make you a better, happier and more content person.

Yes, it is possible to have characteristics of both selfishness and selflessness depending on the situation or environment. When relaxed and in control many folks are a pleasure to be with. But when these same acquaintances are stressed and threatened, their personalities change to the “dark” side.

Developing friendships and being a good friend are two sides of the same coin.

Here are seven basic characteristics derived from Karol Ladd and Simon & Schuster’s webpage on maintaining quality relationships—both personally and professionally. (http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/?s=Seven+Qualities+of+a+Good+Friend)

1. Take a genuine interest in others. That’s a seminal point in Dale Carnegie’s famous How to Win Friends and Influence People. The best conversationalists are those folks who listen. The less you say and the more you listen are often the best ways to make progress in any engagement. As we listen to others and demonstrate our interest in what is important to them, everyone benefits.

Ever notice that at meetings with professional colleagues, many times the most influential and respected person will say the least—and then usually just before the decision point? Too often in a meeting, folks are competing for “face time” or “air time.” A better plan is to listen and not talk until your thoughts are mature and well constructed.

2. Be a giver, not a taker. Being concerned with others—understanding their needs, desires, and motivations—strengthens the bonds while making the giver feel better about him or herself. “We make a life by what we give, we make a living by what we receive,” is a quote attributed to a few famous people, including Winston Churchill and Will Rogers. Giving is ultimately better than receiving for all involved.

3. Loyalty is what we ultimately seek in friendship. Being loyal can be difficult but is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Facts change, conditions become more stressful, but loyalty endures in a long-term relationships.

It is easy to gossip, pass judgment without all the facts, or be negative. However, all of these unbecoming characteristics poison a relationship. If you can recognize you are being insecure, jealous, or uninformed, then you can deal with it internally before your behavior interferes with friendship.

4. Optimism is “mission critical” for life. Optimism is also a major ingredient in friendship. Who wants a sourpuss for a friend? Who wants someone who just sucks the life out of you? Sure, everyone can have a bad day. But in general, hanging around with “can-do” folks is so much better than the opposite.

5. Appreciating the differences in others makes for an interesting life for all. As Americans, we have been a welcoming nation. As individuals, we will have a much richer life by having a heterogeneous group of friends. How boring would it be to have everyone look alike, wear the same clothes, enjoy the same entertainment? We need diversity to grow individually, as a county and as a nation.

All of us have individual talents, from art to music to science and technology. We also have individual characteristics in how we approach an opportunity or respond to a challenge. We should cherish these differences, build on them and play to their strengths in order to thrive personally and professionally.

6. Developing common interests with friends encourages many more points of contact. Finding out what a person is interested in, and then seeing if you also have a common interest, is a proven way to grow a relationship. These common interests can be personal or professional. Getting together to chat about family concerns, weekend activities, intellectual challenges, business goals and almost anything else can strengthen bonds.

It’s especially rewarding to be friends with your professional colleagues. (We spend more time with each other at work than we do with our significant others, parents or children, according to a study from the Federal Reserve.)

7. Transparency—exemplified by open, honest, frank communication—is essential. Folks need to know what you are thinking and why you do the things you do. No one has the time or energy to unravel duplicitous motivations or enigmatic communications. Saying what you think and meaning what you say makes a whole lot of sense.

Our personal and professional worlds overlap in so many ways. Having friends, creating friendships, and growing emotionally make a positive difference.

Our friends, colleagues, and families give us a richness which cannot be obtained from the electronic world. Spending time, energy, and intellect to form, nurture and grow these precious relationships is time well spent.

“He does good to himself who does good to his friend,” said Erasmus, the Dutch scholar and humanist. His advice is as good today as it was 500 years ago.


Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.