Who’s indispensable to you–and who brings you down?

I’m a big believer in Dunbar’s Number. I think it’s more critical than ever to choose wisely when building relationships and deciding where your time and attention are best invested.

That’s why I was so intrigued by an article a friend shared with me entitled “The 6 People You Need in Your Corner.” The author’s premise is that we need a variety of people in our lives to make sure we do the things we’re truly capable of doing, including:

  • The instigator: “Someone who pushes you, who makes you think.”
  • The cheerleader: “a huge fan, a strong supporter, and a rabid evangelist for you and your work”
  • The doubter: “the devil’s advocate, who asks the hard questions and sees problems before they arise”
  • The taskmaster: “the loud and belligerent voice that demands you gets things done”
  • The connector: a “person [who] can help you find new avenues and new allies”
  • The example: “the person who you seek to emulate”

I love this list, but I’m not taking it literally. After thinking it through, I’ve decided that I don’t necessarily need six specific people who can be identified as filling one of these slots; I just need to make sure that all of these slots are filled collectively by those with whom I spend time. I know can use a little help in all six areas, but I especially need more “instigators,” “doubters,” and “taskmasters.”

There’s something just as important, however: remembering the types of people you don’t need in your life. Sometimes we let relationships persist without realizing that they’ve become toxic, or we start new relationships only to end up spending time with people who drain our energy. Sometimes we even seek out those who infuriate us, reading political opinions we’ll never agree with, seething when we see others succeed whom we secretly wish would fail, and following pointless threads full of gossip and negativity.

What does any of this have to do with communication?:

  • First, you can’t communicate well without focus, and giving time to those who bring you down is one of the most certain ways to distract yourself. There’s no question that letting envy and anger gnaw at us while we’re trying to work has a detrimental effect on the end product.
  • Also, just as social media can help us stay close to those we want in our lives, it can also keep us connected to those who make us unhappy. One status update in our feed can be enough to ruin the whole day.

The key, of course, is spending more time with those who make you better, and less time with those who bring out the worst in you. It’s easier said than done, but it begins with making the decision to disconnect from those who get in your way. Hide them. Unfriend them if necessary. Block them as a last resort. Most importantly, don’t confuse quantity with quality. More people in your life will not bring you nearly as much satisfaction as having the right people in your life. Addition by subtraction is a very valid notion, after all, even when it comes to people.

How do you manage your relationships? How do you ensure that you’re spending more time with the people who bring you up, and less with the people who bring you down?

Hat tips to Ashley Motia, who shared the article with me, and John Kaufeld, who shared the article with Ashley.
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2 Responses to Who’s indispensable to you–and who brings you down?

  1. Matt Fortney says:

    My wife and I were recently having a conversation similar to your post. We both have “Friends” & “Connections” that bring us down where we feel worse after reading the posts than before. We didn’t realize the effect reading these posts had on our emotions until we started talking about it. We are taking similar action as you describe. It has made a world of a difference in our emotional outlook after being online. I encourage everyone to re-evaluate the content that feeds into their reading list. Time is too short to waste it on negativity.

    • ajjuliano says:

      Thanks for posting, Matt. We live in a world where nearly every thought can be shared, and nearly every message can be consumed. Trouble is, most thoughts shouldn’t be shared and most messages aren’t worth consuming.

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