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Vital Friends- A Book Review by Sutton

Vital Friends:                             

 The People You Can't

Afford to Live Without  

By Tom Rath

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Events like Covid-19, severe illnesses, and disasters remind us of the importance of friends.


Weaving together stories, historical examples, published research, and survey data, Rath makes the case for the importance of close friends (i,e, Vital Friends) to life-satisfaction and productivity. The author organized 14 chapters into four parts. Four appendixes, research notes, suggested reading, and acknowledgments complete this easy-to-read paperback.


In the six chapters that comprise part one, we learn Rath's point that our culture may have focused too heavily on personal growth to the exclusion of developing relationships with others. In addition to examples from daily life, Rath invokes the research of Gottman to show the importance of positive interactions to marital and individual well-being.


The three chapters of part two focus on the importance of friendships at work. In contrast to companies that discourage friendships on the job, Rath points to research demonstrating the value of friendships to employees and ultimately to productivity. Among other findings, those having a best friend at work "are significantly more likely to engage customers, get more done in less time, and have a safe workplace with fewer accidents… (p. 53)." 

If one friend is good, how many friends are enough? Rath reports that a "three-friend threshold" maximizes life satisfaction.


Readers will find practical applications in part three. Chapter 11 describes eight vital roles that friends can play in a relationship. The reader's task is to use the examples and descriptions to identify these varied roles and find ways to enhance the strengths that others bring to the relationship. Finally, part four consists of a potpourri of suggestions to develop friendships at work including ideas on arranging the environment to encourage discourse and a reminder that people need to be appreciated in order to be engaged at work.


Readers who want practical suggestions will find more information in the Q and A motif of Appendix A and the case study in Appendix B, Those looking for research support will find useful information in the technical report in Appendix C, The research team of Harter and Hodges provides respondent data along with various analyses of their 65-item friend assessment form, including internal consistency values (coefficient alpha .79 to .92) and the results of a factor analysis used to support the eight vital roles described in chapter 11. Appendix D contains data on Gallup Polls about friendships and related values. In addition to endnotes and recommended readings, readers will find a code permitting them to take the friend assessment online.


Overall, I find Vital Friends well-suited to the educated reader who holds a leadership role in

any organization, I am impressed by Rath's ability to take a research study, combine it with related research, and write a book based on what a psychology journal might call Research into Practice.


Researchers may wish to examine the supporting evidence and conduct follow-up research. Clinicians may find the book useful for clients who need to develop and enhance healthy interpersonal relationships. Finally, I think the book would be useful to those adding executive coaching to a counseling or consulting practice.

Disclosure: I received my copy at a Gallup meeting in Omaha.

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