When it comes to networking, we often default to our closest connections first. But don’t stop there—professional coach Kyle Zamcheck says it’s your weak connections that may lead to the biggest professional opportunities.
When working with clients, I echo the highly applicable work of sociologist Mark Granovetter and especially Meg Jay, PhD, in her book The Defining Decade: I encourage clients to network heavily within their weak ties.
Our weaker ties may end up being our strongest connections to different professional stratospheres. Use them.
Know the kinds of connections you’re fostering and interacting with. How much of your social time is spent with your strong ties, and how much is allotted for reaching out to weak ones?
Who Are Our Strong Ties?
Of course, we’re most comfortable with our closest group. Usually, they’re in comparable situations to us and our intellectual or professional peers.
These people are highly involved in our day-to-day lives; we reach out to them for a ride to the airport or Sunday brunch plans. Having a close-knit sense of community is undoubtedly important for personal satisfaction.
Often times, however, besties are too close to help with new professional connections. Research shows that rapid professional growth (new jobs, career shifts, etc.) comes from people outside of our most immediate network, not within it.
Who Are Our Weak Ties?
Weaker ties are acquaintances you meet through friends, family, coworkers, while traveling, in coffee shops, and countless other mundane situations.
They are the people we’re most likely to shy away from rather than lean into.
Our loose connections feel loose, like they could slip out of reach. This is exactly why they are worth pursuing. They’re out of reach because they do not reside within the context of our own everyday world, making them invaluable resources for entering new environments.
Someone outside of your intimate network has a large network of their own, and offers more unopened doors for you to explore. Until you start reaching out, you won’t know who’s orbiting your weaker ties or where fostering those connections could land you.
In fact, a weak tie is how I became a speech coach!
I met my mentor through an acquaintance of a relative; she helped me get my foot in the door. Once that door is cracked opened, you repeat the same process of forming connections until it lands you where you want to be.
Make a List of Potential Contacts in Your Network
Whatever professional path you’re on, there’s one networking item I suggest everyone invest in: a little black book.
Whether digital (Evernote is great for this—it syncs with your phone and computer) or physical, having a place to store all relevant names and connections you’ve made is essential. Whether job searching or happily employed, I encourage clients to keep it up to date.
The five key items to list for each connection:
- Job title/role and current company (including past companies, if known)
- Your personal connection to them
- Details about the person (business or personal, both kinds of information are necessary for follow-up conversation)
- Contact info for their preferred means of communication. (Don’t be afraid to ask what they prefer and then make a note of this for future reference.)
With this list:
- You observe where your strongest and weakest ties exist.
- You notice if there’s a career goal you’ve set for yourself, and any weak ties you already have that can be leads.
- You can gauge your future networking decisions. Which professional areas are you pursuing, but your black book is sparse of any connections in those areas?
- You can see where you lack connections, enabling you to start looking for and pursuing them.
Manage Your Fears
Don’t let fear stop you from building a successful network.
Particularly with weak ties, the first step—reaching out—feels too daunting. Typically, the connection doesn’t feel solid enough to reach out. Establishing connections with weak ties requires courage. It’s completely natural to be nervous. Remember the nervousness you have may be far outweighed by the connections you gain!
If the first time you reach out to a weak tie it’s uncomfortable, there are plenty more opportunities to try again. Once you’ve reached out, bridging social interactions to a business topic is essential.
Practice “This to That”
“This to That” is an exercise I do with clients that helps them practice bridging social to business topics.
- Pick a company or organization that you’re a part of (e.g., you own a bottled-water company).
- Pick an unrelated subject people might be talking about it (e.g., women and leadership).
- Now, find a way to tie or bridge women and leadership to your bottled-water company.
Example: The topic of women leaders is being discussed. You could say,
“Having visibility of women in leadership roles is important for the development of young women and girls. Representation is essential, which is one of the reasons why, at our bottled-water company, we are actively recruiting women for many key roles.”
Hint: The phrase “which is one of the reasons why” can be very helpful!
The more capable you become with obscure subjects, the more comfortable you’ll become transitioning between two seemingly unrelated topics.
Any connection is one for networking. Armed with your little black book and a few rounds of This and That under your belt, go out into the world, Grownups, and show them what you’ve got!
Kyle Zamcheck is a coach and trainer with the international firm The Speech Improvement Company. With a background in psychology and intergroup dialogue, Zamcheck works with clients to help them strengthen their communication effectiveness. Hailing from Boston and residing in Austin, Texas, Zamcheck is learning the art of the southern twang and wearing great cowboy boots.
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