Why I Send Annual Friendship Feedback Emails

For the past three years, I’ve sent out “friendship feedback” emails to some of my closest friends. Here’s why.

Oct 31, 2017 · 3 min read

Friendships are essential

Friendship is like peeing in your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warm feeling inside.

Friendship is one of the most critical, beautiful types of relationships. As C.S. Lewis puts it:

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

While the whole world is moving, while people are having kids, taking care of parents, working toward their careers — we all stop to share moments and hold hands with these precious, wonderful people in our lives. There’s something profound about the power of friendship: the inspiration, the laughter, and the shoulders to cry on.

In fact, studies have repeatedly shown the benefit of friendship. Friendship and mortality are as correlated as smoking and mortality (PLOS). Social support predicts happiness better than anything else (Time). It has even been shown that roommates end up with similar GPAs (Lifehacker).

Yet, friendships are under attack

Despite the importance of friendship, friendship in the United States is threatened:

  • Romance. As we age, more and more of us are coupling up. There’s a study showing that every time you fall in love, you lose two friends. It’s hard for new relationship partners to remember to value their friendships and put in continued effort.
  • Time. The average friendship lasts seven years. After a while, friends often stop putting in effort, or feel like their friends are too different from before.
  • Fewer new friends. Finding new friendships in later adult years can be very challenging, especially when it seems like everyone is focused on work, relationships, or their children.
  • Technology. While technology may be virtually connecting us, people on average feel lonelier than ever (CBS News). It’s much easier to send a quick “happy birthday” message to a Facebook friend than actually spend quality time with them.

Let’s prioritize friendships

Relationship partners are advised to regularly communicate about feelings and improvement areas. Managers conduct quarterly performance reviews for their reports. Why aren’t we conducting informal feedback discussions among friendships?

Sometimes, friends piss each other off. That’s okay! That’s part of friendship. But what’s important is listening for feedback, improving, and trying every year to be a better friend. That’s why I send out an annual email to my friends that asks three questions:

  • What’s awesome about our friendship?
  • How could we improve or enhance our friendship?
  • How can I improve as a person?

After both of us answer the questions, we can ask further questions and digest the feedback. It’s been great to notice trends in my friends’ responses. Perhaps I’ve been a bit too arrogant this year, or maybe I consistently came late to events. The feedback exchange also gives me an opportunity to, respectfully and gently, explain how my friends may have hurt me (e.g. by not showing up to my birthday party or being rude).

This is an opportunity to have a frank open discussion about my relationship with my friends. But it’s also a way to show my friends that I care. I care about being a better friend, I care about this relationship, I care about you.

I hope you consider asking your friends for feedback — it doesn’t even have to be as formal as an email. Treat this as an opportunity to grow, offer helpful feedback, and bond even closer to your friend.

*PS*: To all my friends, if you haven’t received a form and would like to exchange feedback with me, just let me know! I generally send the list to a small group of folks who I think would be receptive to this idea, but it is by no means exclusive.

Stephen Cognetta

Written by

Ex-product @Google, Princeton CS. I help PMs get their dream job @ https://www.tryexponent.com. More about me: http://www.stephencognetta.com

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