It’s a paradox, isn’t it? People you know and trust are the ones who will help you in times of need. To a large extent, that’s true. But for professional development or career options, your close relations are not so effective. In a study dating back to 1973, sociologist Mark Granovetter proved that people were 58 percent more likely to succeed in getting a job through those whom they didn’t know well.
What’s happening here? Well, turns out that there is a logical explanation.
People you know well are your strong ties. They are part of your inner circles for a reason. They enjoy similar things, prefer places you like, like the same movies as you. In fact, their perspectives are similar to yours too. And that’s why some glaring drawbacks are visible in these relations.
You see, a strong tie knows you well. Over time, he has developed notions about you – about what you can do and what you can’t. It doesn’t have to be true. A strong tie’s emotional attachment to you will also cloud his judgement. Honest opinions could be replaced by stereotyping, pigeon-holing, or flat out fear. This impacts your professional development in many ways. One, the person might stifle your original thoughts because he’s afraid that you will fail. Two, it could make you doubt your ability. Three, you might overlook certain traits unique to you, because your strong tie hasn’t noticed, or refuses to acknowledge, it. Four, it keeps crucial information and knowledge at bay. Since strong ties have access to the same information and news, it’s highly possible that you know what they know too.
The Power of Weak Ties
Your weak ties comprise of people known to others in your circles, whom you either know cursorily, or don’t know at all. These people present fresh perspectives which can make you go – “this changes the way I looked at things.” They also provide insights and opportunities which are useful to you. Here is Jacob Morgan shedding light on the power of weak ties.
For personal and professional development, you must look for constructive feedback. Maybe you want to pursue entrepreneurship and are sold on an idea. Weak ties are a potent way of getting feedback on it. People who don’t know you well don’t harbor preconceived notions. They don’t think that you cannot do something. They view the idea objectively and offer constructive feedback and fresh perspectives. Before launching the Aryatra website, I asked friends for insights to promote this venture. Most of my strong ties suggested writing blog posts, commenting on others’ posts, Google ads etc. Then I approached a weak and remarkably intelligent tie, Rakesh Kumar. He suggested building an app to increase awareness and user engagement. He offered other amazing and unique insights which I will implement steadily. See the difference? Such insights are not just useful for entrepreneurs. They also help people trying to choose a career, or looking for avenues to grow.
The biggest advantage of interacting with a weak tie is the absence of emotion and judgement, and the presence of pragmatism. Thus, the more weak ties you have, the more your horizons expand, and you stay connected to the world.
According to Kim Keating, “Both weak and dormant ties offer more novel information than strong ties. They travel in different circles and are connected to entirely different people – unlike strong ties, who tend to travel in the same circles as you do.”
Right, you say. I’m sold on the idea of building and maintaining weak ties. But where do I start? How will I find these people, and connect with them?
Thought you’d never ask.
Here are four powerful and simple ways to build weak ties without appearing intrusive.
1. Be Interesting
Let’s get one thing straight. Being interesting is not the same as being a self promoter. Nothing spells ‘s-p-a-m-m-y’ faster than interrupting conversations to tell us how awesome your 30-second interaction with a beautiful girl was. Never mind that she didn’t share her phone number with you.
We live in the value economy today. It’s called the sharing economy, but I think the term ‘value economy’ is more apt. People, platforms, or things are interesting when they can add value to our lives. This value doesn’t need to be groundbreaking. Something which makes your target audience think, or intrigues them, makes them smile or laugh… it’s all value. If you offer something which addresses a pain area of theirs, you’ve got yourself a winner. Be genuinely interested in others. It will make you interesting.
The next logical question is, “how do I find people to be interested in?”
2. Use social media
Social media platforms are the most empowering tools in the world today. They enable you to connect with people whom you never would have known. Social networking let you ask questions, listen to answers, and be part of global conversations. Facebook is your private network. But Twitter and LinkedIn are open platforms. You can find people who already are doing what you want to do, and ask them for advice. You can find people whose pain points can be addressed by you, and engage with them. You can get advice from experts on professional development and even choosing a career. Social networking can help you stay updated with latest best practices in the industry.
The sky is the limit for building weak ties using social media.
3. Engage with people
“Stop marketing. Start engaging.” – Scott Stratten
My biggest complaint is that we use social media for distribution instead of engagement. We want to showcase what we do, what we think and expect. That’s good for Facebook. But not Twitter and Linkedin. Especially in times when our attention span is less than that of a goldfish.
People whom you are trying to connect with get plenty of similar invitations every day. Think about the number of LinkedIn invites and Twitter follows you get. So stay in people’s radars. Engage with them enough to ensure that you get noticed, but not blocked. The best way to do this is by adding value. Leave a genuine comment on their blog, share something which interests them. Try what they suggested and inform them about how it turned out.
Eat. Sleep. Be Genuine. Repeat.
All these steps account for null if you don’t conduct prior research. Jumping into a conversation without context frustrates others. What was that about a first impression?
Before interacting with someone, check their social profiles. Glance through their work, find their interests and passions. Can you find common ground? If yes, use it as a starting point to build a relation. If no, ask them questions. But ensure that you pose interesting questions. For busy people, there is such a thing as a stupid question. And they won’t answer it.
Also, you don’t want to question a marketing pro about improving operational efficiency, right? So conduct research before connecting with people.
Back in the 70s, 80s and 90s, choosing the right career, or even progressing in one, was difficult. Building weak ties was a nightmare. You had to know someone well connected, or rub your shoes on the road. People often took up a stream and stayed stuck in it until they retired. Switching careers was a taboo.
But today, it’s a norm. As you read this, people are abandoning what they don’t like to pursue what they do. Doing what you love has become easier because of endless opportunities. You can work for the rest of your life, and not feel like you worked a single day.
You want this life, don’t you? It’s what you dreamed of when you stepped into the corporate world. So go out there. Chase it. Build relations that will help you improve. And be genuine. Give ten times more than you get. With time, you will get ten times more than you give. And you will set an example for others. Live like your actions will get published on the front page of newspapers. For all you know, one day they will.