Why you need friends who don't always agree

If you ask people who their friends are, they will hopefully list people who are kind, caring, there when needed and supportive of their choices in life. But while these qualities in a friend are essential, they are not enough. There is one more type of support from friends, colleagues, and mentors that is absolutely essential: criticism.

That sounds surprising. No one likes rejection. This is certainly not what I am talking about. What I mean is someone who in a neutral or kind voice shares with us their concerns about how we are behaving, about the choices we are making, about how we are treating ourselves and others. That criticism can come in three forms — the three Rs.

The first R is for REFUSAL. One of the main reasons you are successful later in life is that your parents were willing to support you by refusing some of your ill-conceived preferences for things like bedtime, homework versus play time or food choices. We continue to need people in our lives who are willing to rein us in, or at least make us pause to rethink. For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, describes his process for creating new products as inviting his staff to tell him, "This will never work."

The second R is REFRAME. This is where the person you are seeking support from takes your behavior and reframes it for you. For example, when you cry in front of a friend, and start to immediately wipe away the tears and apologize, the good friend does not reject the crying but does reject the apology with a comment such as "I am glad you trust me enough to let me see you this way. It only makes me care for you more."

The third R is REFERRAL. If you bring a problem to a friend or colleague who feels the problem isn't something they can advise you on, they will gently guide you to the person or resource they feel is more appropriate. In doing this, they are wisely steering you to someone or someplace where you might receive better help.

So ask yourself: Do you seek critical feedback from the people who know you? Do you respond graciously and gratefully to the people who are giving you suggestions? It takes courage, good self-esteem and a powerful commitment on your part to your growth and success to seek out criticism and be open to advice. Having a friend who can deliver one of more of these Rs is a rare and precious find.

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist and the author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

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