I thought we were friends!

15 Aug

Funny those things from your childhood that you remember.

My mom always said that “friend’ was an overused word in the English language. It turns out that she may be right.

An interesting headline in the New York Times caught my eye recently – Do Your Friends Actually Like You?

A study of friendship ties among 84 people (aged 23 to 38) was conducted in a business management class. They were asked to describe the relationships they had to each other on a 5 point scale – from “I don’t know this person” to “One of my best friends.”

The researchers discovered something very interesting – only about half of the perceived friendships were mutual!


And even more significant (in my mind) is the fact that the expectation of reciprocity was a startling 94%!

The researchers postulated that the definition of the term “friend” may be a contributing factor.  The term is hard to describe and one can easily see that it could mean something different to different people.

Websters Dictionary describes it as “a person who you like and enjoy being with.” Now that doesn’t help, does it?

From a conflict resolution perspective though, the fact that people perceive their friendship relationship on different levels is VERY important.

It’s why someone’s feelings get their feelings hurt when they are excluded from a lunch at work or a party invitation list.

How many times have you thought, or heard, “I thought we were friends.”

The work of Robin Dunbar (an evolutionary psychologist) and my mom (unofficially) may help.

Think of it as a pyramid with a sharp top that fits perhaps one or two people. These are the ones that you are the very closest to and can be yourself with. The next layer is only about 4 people – with for whom you have great affection and work to maintain your relationship with. And then it drop off from there to casual friends and acquaintances.

So, since you only have a limited amount of emotional capital to distribute, who are the top 5 people in your pyramid?





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