Today we will look at applying the theory of supply and demand to social dynamics in relationships and in the workplace. The actual model of supply and demand is a bit more complex and specific to economics than the popular version sounds, but its basic idea is that price (or value of a friendship) is determined by both supply and demand – if supply increases and demand doesn’t, a good becomes less valuable, and vice versa.
Alfred Marshall’s theory can’t be applied with total accuracy to human behaviour – we simply don’t value a chat the way we value a bag of rice – but, in his words, the same “fundamental idea” runs through all these kinds of exchanges. If your time has a distinct value, and if you behave as though that value is important, your friendship will seem more worthwhile than if you simply have nothing better to do. In other words, if you’re electing to spend time with a friend instead of doing any of the many other important things that could occupy your time, that friend will have a greater respect for your friendship. These guidelines come with that sense of a relationship’s value in mind.
Plan get-togethers beforehand
Setting up social outings instead of just bumping into them guarantees that you’ll at least have the chance to organise something meaningful, making your friendship more relevant than if you just wandered by and played Playstation on the couch for a while. It also gives you the opportunity to put distance between these outings; an enviable friend with valuable time is probably not going to be free on a daily basis. The idea here isn’t to intentionally distort what your schedule is actually like, or to play politics with your availability; it’s just to reaffirm that your time has actual value, which, of course, it does.
An added bonus of being a little limited in your availability is that you’ll remain interesting for longer. There’s a finite amount of someone’s past to learn about, and once you’ve perceived the broad strokes of someone’s personality, you already have a concrete idea of who that person is — knowing everything about someone (or believing you do) is less compelling than the alternative. Infrequent meetings give you the chance to live a little in the interim and to have more to say about yourself.
Get comfy in your own skin
Whether or not you’re naturally a gregarious, friendly person, you shouldn’t feel as though you always need other people in order to enjoy yourself. We’re social animals, but there’s a hint of co-dependency in being too social, or feeling more influenced by social relationships than you should. This generally goes hand in hand with low self-esteem and a fear of being alone, which is why it’s helpful to know that friendships complement who you are, not necessary define it. Besides, it’s a basic function of status that you’ll seem more authoritative and worthy of respect if you’re just a little less eager for social interaction. It pays to be and to feel somewhat independent.
Build a big social network
First of all, this doesn’t mean you should amass a vast multitude of flaky, irrelevant friends whose company you don’t actually enjoy. That’s counterproductive, and in any case, the insincerity of that social network would probably start to wear on you after a while. But having a lot of friends gives you options, and though it might sound petty, having those options increases your social standing. Your company, your brand (other’s perception of you) will seem more valuable – and in an economic sense, it will be – if you’re foregoing all kinds of other opportunities in order to spend time with some friends in particular. On top of that, it enhances the value of the friendships you do decide to work on because you’ll be actively concentrating on those friendships instead of just having them happen by default.
Again, I’m not advising that you act cagey just for the sake of some serpentine friendship machinations. If you don’t want to go do something, though, getting pressured into doing it anyway is a lose-lose situation. The result is bad for you because you’re being shoehorned into a situation where you’re not happy, and, if you always wind up going along with what everyone else wants, the friends in question will think less of you too. You’re indicating that you’re a doormat.
Groucho Marx’s often quoted attitude toward social inclusion (“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”) represents a real social phenomenon, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you agree to everything just because you’re afraid not to. Those friends worth having will respect your being an individual more than your being ingratiating, anyway.
Joseph E. Parker is a project manager for an NGO in Nigeria.
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