When I was young, my parents used to warn me against running with the wrong crowd. The stakes seemed high. What if I fell in with the wrong people?
My parents were right (even though the wrong people tended to be the fun people), but the stakes for finding the "right crowd" are arguably even higher for adults. We all need, as Alan would say, our own "wolf pack": people who will support, help, encourage, and motivate us. And that means we all need to be the kind of people who support, help, and inspire the people we are closest to.
So make sure you don't treat the people you care the most about --whether personally or professionally -- in any of these ways:
1. You always find the flaws.
It's easy to play devil's advocate. It's easy to point out all the reasons why something won't work.
It's a lot harder to ask smart questions, share the positives from lessons learned, come up with ways to do things differently, and offer to help if a problem does occur.
Your bad experiences should inform your future, not dictate it. Be the kind of person who helps others find their way.
2. You never find the flaws.
On the other end of the spectrum is pretending every thought or deed is amazing. It's easy to do that, too, because you never have to say anything the other person doesn't want to hear.
That's also a problem, because unconditional praise is fun but rarely helpful. None of us are that smart, that insightful, or that talented. We often get it wrong. We often make mistakes. But we often don't realize it until someone is brave enough to tell us.
It's easy to tell a friend she's great. It's much, much harder -- it takes a real friend -- to tell her she can do better.
But sometimes you need to, because hype is the enemy of improvement.
3. You gossip.
It's hard to resist inside info. Finding out the reasons behind someone's decisions, the motivations behind someone's actions, the inside scoop about someone's hidden agenda... that stuff is hard to resist.
But when you talk about others, you leave people wondering what you say about them.
If you must provide the inside scoop, make it about your thoughts or feelings. That's not gossip, that's just truth -- and friends tell each other the truth.
4. You make everything about you.
Self-interest is good. Enlightened self-interest is better.
Self-centered just sucks to be around.
I know people who find away to make every story, every occurrence, every thing somehow involves them. (You know people like that, too.) It's exhausting. And when you walk away, you realize that whatever you said only served as a launching pad for what the other person said.
Want to be a good friend? Listen. Your interest -- in the other person, not in yourself -- will show you care.
5. You're a master of "What if?"
Some people have an uncanny ability to foresee a long list of potential barriers and problems that in reality will not appear... and sometimes even cannot appear.
Granted, you don't want your friends to make a mistake they could have avoided. But don't counter every single idea with a never-ending list of reasons why it just won't work. Unreasonable doubt is the enemy of achievement.
If my idea truly won't work, I definitely want to know. Tell me, tell me why, and then tell me what might work instead. Then you're helping. Then we can go places together.
6. You collect instead of connecting.
Building connections is important. But networking isn't a numbers game.
Connections aren't an end; connections are just a beginning. Too many beginnings means lots of starts and no finishes. There's no way to build meaningful connections with dozens or hundreds of people.
Never forget the difference between friends and acquaintances.
7. You're high maintenance.
Servicing equipment regularly so it doesn't fall apart makes sense.
What doesn't make sense is when you make other people "service" your personal or professional relationships. Maybe you need regular check-ins. Maybe you need regular contact so you can feel reassured that the other person still "cares." And maybe when you don't get that, you make other people feel they've somehow let you down.
In short, you're needy.
The best relationships are based on only one kind of need: When your friends truly need you, you're always there for them.
8. You set the wrong example.
Some people just drift. They wander aimlessly from task to task, from day to day and year to year with no plan, no purpose, and no goal.
Want your friends to accomplish their goals? Then have your own plans, your own purpose, and your own goals. Even if your friends' goals are different from yours -- and they probably will be -- they will feed off your energy... and you'll feed off theirs.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Motivation and driver are contagious. Friends help friends succeed, often simply by showing what is possible.