How often do you fight with your best friend? Your answer is likely related to how well you know her “triggers” — the things that really set her off.
For instance, do needy people or attention hogs annoy your friend? Does she think lying is ever okay? If you can answer these intimate questions about your closest friend, a new study in Psychological Science suggests, you probably fight with her less. And knowing such details leads to an overall closer, more rewarding relationship.
Researchers recruited college students, who in turn recruited their friends, to fill out surveys that read a bit like a questionnaire for the “Newlywed Game.” The surveys offered lists of triggers (behaviors or characteristics of other people that are likely to annoy) like perfectionism, timidity, obliviousness and skepticism, and asked participants to describe how they would react when faced with them. They were also asked to predict how their friends would respond to people with those characteristics.
The participants who were better able to predict their friends’ reactions — an exercise that researchers referred to as an “if-then profile” — were also those who had less combative, less frustrating relationships, and ultimately more feelings of closeness with their friends.
“It’s a more detailed way of understanding personality,” said Charity A. Friesen, a co-author and graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, in a statement.
The researchers note that anyone, even a coworker or casual acquaintance, can create a list of adjectives to describe a person, like witty, athletic or technology-oriented. But only more intimate friends would be able to describe an “if-then profile.” For instance, “you might know the person is extroverted when they’re out with their friends but more introverted when they’re in a new situation,” said Friesen.
It’s not news, but it’s a good reminder: when it comes to any kind of personal relationship, attentiveness can make all the difference.