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Book Review of "Making Friends (& Making Them Count)" by Em Griffin

Updated on November 9, 2012


According to Em Griffin the process of producing a unique shared meaning is communication, specifically concerning relationships. Griffin explains the many components of communication in his book by offering personal experience, his research, other’s research and by using analogies. I have composed a summary of the major ideas in Making Friends (& Making Them Count). By analyzing Griffin’s merits, I acknowledge my agreement with most of his relationship-formation statements



Making Friends (& Making Them Count) by Em Griffin is a book on interpersonal communication. Griffin defines interpersonal communication as “the process of creating unique shared meaning.”(p.13) Using metaphors throughout the book, Griffin explains communication and how it is more than just the speakers’ action. Griffin lists 10 rules to understanding the communication process. These rules are broken into three categories: Understanding Me, Understanding Thee and Understanding We.

Griffin compares communication to bowling. In bowling, the bowler is the sender of the message. The ball is the message and the bowling pins are the receiver of the message. There is only one sender and one direction the message is sent. The pins are just sitting there waiting to receive the message, but will not return a message back to the sender. This, states Griffin, is not true to communication. Next he compares communication to ping-pong. While there is some back and forth action that was not seen in bowling, there are some flaws. Griffin states that ping-pong is usually played in a controlled environment. By using only one ball, it can only move in one direction at a time. Ping-pong is competitive and only one person can be a winner.Again, not a true comparison as to what communication should be. According to Griffin “in successful dialog, both people win.” (p.16) Griffin uses charades to describe how interpersonal communication is a cooperative, private transaction that takes team effort.

Communication begins with “Understanding Me” which refers to self-concept and motivation. Self-concept is about identity and self-esteem. Griffin describes identity as “mind’s eye picture we have of ourselves.” (p.31) Some identifying factors include roles, groups, loyalties and abilities. Griffin uses the metaphor of a clear, crisp photo vs. a fuzzy photo to describe the effects of self-identity. By having a clearly defined self-image means having “one less variable to worry about.” (p.32) There are many reasons to have a fuzzy self-image. Some reasons may be from life changes, such as marriage, divorce, birth of children, children leaving home, etc. Typically people who have a realistic view of who they are able to take bold action and get things done. When actions don’t reflect the real self, there may be some hesitation and slow response.Identity is not set in stone and is flexible. Griffin lists some ways to understand key elements of our identity. Listing an inventory that describes our roles and personality traits, the groups we belong to, reactions to “moment of truth” events, and creative efforts can give an accurate description of identity. How we feel about that identity is self-esteem.

Griffin divides self-esteem into four building blocks. The first building block is a sense of moral worth. To be confident, people need to know that they are deemed worthwhile by God. The second building block is the sense of competence. Knowing that you can do at least one thing really well is an example of a sense of competence. The third building block is the sense of self-determination. People with high self-esteem take responsibility for their own lives. People who have low self-esteem usually place blame on others. The fourth building block is the sense of unity. Griffin uses the phrase “having it all together” when describing people who have a sense of unity. (p.40) These people know what they are doing and why. People with a high self-esteem usually view the world as more positive place. People with a low self-esteem tend to be easier influenced.Identity and self-esteem together is self-image.

Since self-image can be changed, Griffin gives a number of ideas to lift up your self-image. He suggests working on a worthwhile cause or changing the way you look. Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good and sharing your feelings. Do not take yourself too seriously by having a sense of humor. Over time, and with some work, self-image can become more positive. With a more positive self-image communication will be more effective.

There are three categories of motivation: need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power. The need for achievement is the need to meet a standard of excellence that is self-regulated. Need for affiliation is a person who is a strong people person. They are aware of people’s feelings and usually have strong emotional responses. The need for power may not be taken in a negative way. People with a need for power need to have an influence on others. Teachers and pastors are positive examples of need for power motivated people.

Motivation, self-image, identity and self-esteem are factors in understanding who you are. The next step in understanding the communication process is Understanding Thee. This section gives detail explanations of perception, listening to language, nonverbal communication, and interpersonal attractions.

Perception is a process that reaches conclusions by making judgments. Griffin discusses the myth of sameness and the power of expectation. Just because we think someone should be just like us, doesn’t mean that is true. Our sense of time, relationship to God and nature, activity types and relationship structures are just a few ways people will vary in their views of the world. Understanding other’s views will increase accurate perceptions. Another way to increase accurate perception is to understand that expectations can be determined by it is that we personally want.“Motives affect perception.” (Griffin, 1987, p. 81)

Perception is affected by many things. Even if you find out with later contact that the first impression may not be true, the first impression will be held as true. This is the law of primacy. Positive perceptions tend to have less of an impact than negative ones do. Identifying correct feelings is important to accurate perception. Perception is just one component of understanding another person. Listening to the language is another.

“Words don’t mean things, people mean things.” (Griffin, 1987, p. 97) Listening is very important part of communication. Words have different meanings. By paraphrasing, listeners can verify that what they heard is what the speaker is saying. Words can invoke an emotional feeling just by how they are used. The emotional feeling may be an incorrect interpretation. Small talk uses trivial words. Using small talk is a way to “establish warm human contact.” (p.110) Careful use of words can develop relationships, and so does nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication conveys more about an interpersonal relationship than any other means. Nonverbal communication includes gestures, facial display, eye behavior, and appearance, use of space as well as touch, voice and smell.

Gestures are body movements that are from the neck down. These movements include nonverbal substitutes for words, or add to the verbal words. Some gestures may not be given much thought. Griffin states that “over 50% of the emotional meaning is picked up from facial expression.” (p.124) People can usually tell if someone is angry, sad, happy, fearful, surprised or disgusted.Eye contact indicates that both parties are ready to send and receive messages. Appearance as self-presentation includes hair, clothing and to some extent body type.

Use of space, according to Edward Hall, has 4 ranges. There are many variables in the use of space. Culture and relationship are just two possible variables. Touch as nonverbal communication can intensify the attraction or aversion. Sound of voice includes tone, volume, and rate of speech. Asking for or giving verbal feedback on nonverbal behavior can increase understanding in a relationship.

Interpersonal attraction, or chemistry, includes forces such as situation, personality, and response. These factors help explain why the attraction. Situation has three main factors: proximity, stress and cooperation. Usually relationship need close proximity to develop and grow. The farther away in distance, the more it costs in time, energy and money for the relationship to grow.An example of a stress factor would be that misery loves miserable company. Sharing problems can make a relationship stronger. Cooperation can nourish relationships, while competition can interfere.

Personality includes physical attraction, similarities, competence. Different cultures will have different standards for physical attraction. Similarities include background, attitudes, and values. Griffin states that “common values are crucial in a successful marriage.” (p. 153) The competence factor imply that people avoid losers and are attracted to winners.According to Griffin, response is the most important aspect of attraction. Reciprocity, mutual attraction, has three factors: affirmations, favors, and touch. These factors let both people in a relationship know that they make each other feel good about themselves.

The last section in the book is “Understanding We.” This includes trust, transparency, accountability and forgiveness. Trust is “the oxygen that makes the fire blaze.” (Griffin, 1987, p. 166) Griffin uses the onion and knife analogy to explain transparency and self-disclosure. Cutting through layers is the self-disclosure that allows the transparency. Once there is transparency, accountability is expected. Accountability includes having the right to be heard, listening to negative feedback, not allowing harm, and to confront in private. Asking and giving forgiveness allows the relationship to continue. Without forgiveness, there is no relationship.

All these factors, dimensions and parts form and nurture many types of relationships. The information in the book is from research and experience that is brought together to create an understanding of the communication process. Griffin gives many useful ideas, tips and tools to cultivate interpersonal communication.


Making Friends (& Making Them Count) by Em Griffin offers many ways to develop and nurture relationships through the process of communication. I agree with most of the book. Self-image and perception are very important elements in successful communication.

Griffin states that “interpersonal communication starts with the self” (p. 27). It is very important to know and understand who we are. Our identity, how we see ourselves, and self-esteem, how we feel about ourselves plays a key role in how we handle all of our relationships. I do agree with Griffin that self-concept develops in the first few years of life. At some point, though, one must take responsibility. By continuing the “looking glass” or “seeing ourselves through the eyes of other people” (p. 48) one delegates the responsibility of self-image to others.

I have four girls ages 2, 7, 9, and 14. I continue to see them grow through different identity stages. I understand the four building blocks that Griffin uses to explain self-esteem. They are indeed judging their worth by seeing themselves through other people. I work on building them up so that they do love themselves for exactly who they are. I agree with Griffin that if we love ourselves, we are then able to love others. I consider myself lucky by having my girls in my life, and tell them often. I do hope that aspect of the “looking glass self” remains with them.

“Trust is a general expectation that the promises of other individuals with regard to the future can be relied on” (Griffin, 1987, p. 170). I like this quote so much that I hung it in my kitchen. I have already mentioned my 14 year daughter. She is truly amazing. We have used many of the techniques in this book to develop a wonderful relationship, even though this book has only been in my house for a few months. I have stressed to her about honesty for as long as I can remember. She now spends almost as much time away from home as she does at home. I have to know that what she says she is doing is truly what she is doing. Once she lies, I will no longer be able to have that expectation that she can be relied on in the future.

I agree with Griffin that perception is a “process that not only labels people but also changes them.” (p. 76) While Griffin is speaking in terms of developing personal relationships, this is an important concept for all to understand. Perceptions can be shaped by motives of what we want or what we fear. Perceptions are not always true. For example, I think that most political rhetoric is full of labels, and is meant to give perceptions that are misleading.

“Words don’t mean things, people mean things” (Griffin, 1987, p. 97) is a phrase that is loaded with meaning. On numerous occasions my daughter has told me she is doing one thing, but that is not what I heard. Who is in the right has been the question. Maybe she meant to say it one way, or maybe I just thought I heard her say the other. However, I know she was not telling a lie or trying to deceive me, instead the words meant different things to each of us.

Griffin states that “without identification, there is no communication.” (p. 140) I have to agree with this statement one hundred percent. My girlfriends and I have developed strong, long-lasting relationships because of the situations we find ourselves in. These situations usually include stress of other relationships with husbands and children. I do not agree completely with Griffin’s idea that proximity is a determining factor. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to stay in touch. When any of us need someone to lean on, we pick up the phone and call. No, it is not the same as being able to share a cup of coffee and a hug. But, because of the amount of time, tears and knowledge already shared, distance has not affected the relationship.

Griffin’s lists guidelines for friendship accountability; one is a “contract for negative feedback” (p. 187). This would be dependent on the type of relationship and type of feedback. I will go back to my girlfriends. We have a tendency to gripe and complain about things that bother us. It is an unstated rule that we do not offer negative feedback. We need to vent and along with that vent, there is a real need for positive feedback. Negative feedback would cause us, or maybe I should speak just for myself, to become defensive about the matter at hand.

The majority of the book is useful in understanding relationship communication. It is organized in orderly fashion so that the information builds upon itself. I find that I agree with most of what Griffin says. I enjoyed his humor and personal disclosures. He was thorough and thoughtful.


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