You hear all the time that networking is effective—I even said it myself a few blog posts back. But have you ever wondered why networking works so well? I stumbled across an answer reading Charles Duhigg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Business and Life http://charlesduhigg.com/ . The secret, Duhigg says, is the power of “weak ties.”
According to Duhigg, weak ties were first identified by a Harvard PhD student named Mark Granovetter. In the 1960’s, Granovetter studied how 282 men found their last jobs. He wanted to know how they learned about job openings or got an interview or a referral and who helped them. He began with the generally accepted premise that friends will help each other and strangers are not as willing to lend a hand. This was born out in Granovetter’s research. What he learned that he didn’t predict was the amount of help casual acquaintances, i.e. friends of friends, were willing to provide, including job leads, referrals, etc. Weak ties are these “friends of friends” and it turns out they were more critical to the success of the job hunt than close friends were.
Why? Because you tend to know the same people and have the same information sources your close friends—your “strong ties”--do. Weak ties give you access to social networks you don’t know as well. Your weak ties travel in different circles, so they have information you and your close friends don’t have—and they know people neither of you know. They can open doors your friends can’t. Having that information makes a big difference, but why is someone with a weak tie to you so willing to help you?
The answer, Duhigg writes, is peer pressure. Peer pressure, he says, is “the sense of obligation that groups place on each other.” Basically there are social norms or obligations that develop in groups or communities and if you ignore them, you risk losing your standing in the group. Let’s say you’re a mid-level executive and a friend asks you to talk with a friend of theirs who’s looking for a job. If you don’t respond positively, the friend might mention it to her running partner who in turn says something to someone you wanted to attract as a client. Voila, you’ve potentially turned off that person. It’s the old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality and it’s that mentality that builds relationships and gets business done.
One ignores those social obligations at their peril and that peril is good for people who need help. Putting yourself out there for others means others will connect you with their networks—and those networks can provide the vital information you need to succeed in attracting new clients, find a job, or get your current job done. Weak ties rock!
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.