Simon Sinek on Why to Differentiate Friends From Acquaintances

In Chapter 19 of 20 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek shares the importance of differentiating friends from acquaintances. Sinek compares acquaintances sharing common interests, for example Facebook friends, from actual friends. When discussing a mutual connection, Sinek has learned to ask sharper questions to differentiate between the two to receive better context on an introduction or relationship. Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer who applies his curiosity around why people do what they do to teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. He is the author of "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Sinek holds a BA degree in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University.


Erik Michielsen: Why is it important to differentiate between friendships and acquaintances? 

Simon Sinek: Oh, I went through this recently. So I realized recently that I use the word friend too loosely. “Yeah, I’m friends with him … yeah, yeah, he’s a friend of mine.” Right? And the reality is I call a lot of people friends who aren’t my friend. And you know, I have 2500 or 2300, who knows, “friends” on Facebook. They’re not my friends. [Erik laughs] They’re nice people, I like them, I think – if I met them, I don’t know I haven’t met most of them – but we clearly share common interests which is why we became friends on Facebook and that’s good, but they’re not my friends. 

My friends are people who, if I’m in a time of need they will be there for me no matter what. My friends are people who I can be weak around. My friends are people who I can cry around and they won’t think any less of me. My friends are the people who, when they need something, I help them because I want to, not because I think they want something from me, you know? My friends are people that I trust implicitly with all my secrets; who know everything about me and I’m just fine with that. 

And I don’t need them to sign confidentiality agreements no matter what I tell them, show them or share with them. Those are my friends, where the trust is deep and implicit, and those people are really few. And I realize, you know, that I think we use the term a little to loosely in society where friends are people that we have on Facebook, and um, we stopped using the word acquaintances. We used to use the word acquaintance much more … “yeah he’s an acquaintance of mine.” 

I haven’t referred to anybody as an acquaintance in years. Everybody’s a friend. And so I’ve actually started to temper now, you know, how I talk about it. People say, “Do you know him?” Like … “I’m friendly with him,” I’ll say, or “I’m developing a friendship with him,” or “I know him,” or, “we’ve met.” And I realize that the number of people who I truly want to call friends are actually a very small group, and that’s a good thing. The opposite is I hear people say to me, “Oh yeah, I’m friend with him,” and then you realize that they met once over coffee and there’s no friendship there, you know? 

I’ve had that happen where somebody goes “Oh I know him” and it happens to be somebody I know too and I go “Oh, da-da-da-da-duh” and they’re like, “oh, uh, no.” And you realize they were lying, or just, they were over using the word friend. Uh, so yeah I think friends are sacred, and it is dismissive or irresponsible of the value of those friendships to include massive amounts of people who don’t live on the same pedestal as your real friends.