The Eight Kinds of Friends You Need to Have

I recently picked up Tom Rath’s book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. It was an enjoyable, quick, and informative read. You don’t see many books on friendship, and I’ve never thought much about it before, so the topic really caught my interest.

My biggest take-away from the book was this: Different friends often play different roles in our lives, depending upon who they are and what their strengths are. Rath points out eight different “vital roles” that our friends play. Simply seeing these roles articulated was incredibly illuminating. They are:

1. Builder

“Builders are great motivators, always pushing you toward the finish line. They continually invest in your development and genuinely want you to succeed — even if it means they have to go out on a limb for you” (87).

2. Champion

“Champions stand up for you and what you believe in. They are the friends who sing your praises. Every day, this makes a difference in your life. Not only do they praise you in your presence, but a Champion also ‘has your back’ — and will stand up for you when you’re not around” (93).

3. Collaborator

“A collaborator is a friend with similar interests — the basis for many great friendships. … When you talk with a collaborator, you’re on familiar ground … you often find that you have similar ambitions in work and life” (99).

4. Companion

“A companion is always there for you, whatever the circumstance. You share a bond that is virtually unbreakable. When something big happens in your life, this is one of the first people you call” (105).

5. Connector

“A connector is a bridge builder. …. Connectors get to know you — and then introduce you to others” (111). Connectors are always inviting you to lunch and other gatherings where you can meet new people, and point you in the right direction when you need something.

6. Energizer

“Energizers are your ‘fun friends’ who always give you a boost. You have more positive moments when you are with these friends. Energizers are quick to pick you up when you’re down — and can make a good day great” (117).

7. Mind Opener

‘Mind Openers are the friends who expand your horizons and encourage you to embrace new ideas, opportunities, cultures, and people. They challenge you to think in innovative ways and help you create positive change. Mind Openers know how to ask good questions, and this makes you more receptive to ideas” (123).

8. Navigator

“Navigators are the friends who give you advice and keep you headed in the right direction. You go to them when you need guidance, and they talk through the pros and cons with you until you find an answer. In a difficult situation, you need a Navigator by your side. They help you see a positive future while keeping things grounded in reality” (129).

We need people in our lives that contribute all of these things. Many friends fulfill multiple roles, but to expect any one person to fulfill all of them is to commit the “rounding error” (which he talks about early in the book).

This even has implications for marriage, since friendship is a critical component of any marriage. In successful marriages, each spouse doesn’t expect the other to fulfill all of these roles perfectly. In unsuccessful marriages, you often have one spouse trying to “fix” the other to “do better” at everything and thus be more “rounded.” This doesn’t work. The key is to focus on what the other does bring to the relationship, not on what they don’t bring.

Vital Friends was filled with many other take-aways as well, including more detail on each of these roles and how to strengthen them. Tomorrow I’ll be posting on Rath’s findings regarding friendships in the workplace.