During our Leadership and Civility Lunch titled Making an Impact through Connections participants had a chance to make new connections. Aubrey Alvarez, a leader who is skilled in making connections for her non-profit, Eat Greater Des Moines challenged participants to share an idea they have for their work with the people at their table.
There are benefits in sharing beyond our normal social groups. A person we know as an acquaintance, rather than someone in our circle of family and friends, is considered a “weak tie” by scholar Mark Granovetter. He is a highly cited sociologist that introduced the paradoxical concept of the strength of weak ties in a 1973 article published in The American Journal of Sociology. Later, Granovetter went on to apply the theory to people who were seeking a job. He discovered that weak ties are more helpful than strong ties when it comes achieving this goal.
Since this blog is about small actions that matter, it is worth referencing the concept of weak ties when it comes to achieving results in the workplace. The whole idea of small actions playing out on a grander scale fits with the concept of weak ties. Connecting with someone you don’t know well to solve a problem seems inconsequential. However, the work of Granovetter points to three benefits.
Three Benefits of Leveraging Weak Ties
1. Different Perspective = Useful Feedback
Terry, a successful sales professional had a practice of socializing mostly with other sales professionals. She started to feel frustrated that her sales were not staying consistent over time.
One day, on a business trip, she found herself explaining her frustration to a total stranger. The conversation ended abruptly when the person said, “I know a sales person who was having this problem and he realized that he needed to listen more than talk. I don’t want to be rude but I really need to catch up on some sleep.”
Terry was stunned about the abruptness of the short conversation and embarrassed that she even confided in a stranger. However, the interchange prompted action. She sat for the rest of the flight thinking about the advice. She made a list of questions to ask people during the sales process and vowed to try listening to the responses of the questions with her next sales call.
2. Better Articulation = More Clarity and Creativity
In the same example, Terry had to explain things more specifically than she would to her friends. Because they know her well they might have just agreed with her and intuitively understood rather than really listening to what she was saying. The process of articulating our thoughts more clearly leads to more insight and creativity.
3. More Weak Ties = More Connected to Information and Ideas
The more weak ties we have, the more connected we are to the world. This allows us to receive important information about ideas, threats and opportunities in time to respond to them.
In order to leverage weak ties we need to have a mindset that assumes the best intentions of others. Our small actions like listening well, speaking up, smiling, noticing little things, and including others will lead to an ability to leverage weak ties when we need them.