You might be able to accomplish some of your goals by yourself, but you certainly don’t need to go it alone, nor should you want to. You can usually achieve a lot more by involving other people in your endeavours. Getting their help, however, is not always easy.
People in your networks can provide the information, skills, support, connections, or other resources that you need to succeed. It goes without saying that you’ll be better able to tap into these resources if your networks are big and your relationships are strong. Building these bonds does not happen overnight, however. You have to invest time and energy into strengthening these connections — both in your immediate networks and in the broader community.
Broadly, your connections with the people in your communities can be categorized as strong and weak ties. Strong ties are all the close connections within your networks: family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, etc. Strengthening these bonds helps to improve the personal relationships with the people you interact with most regularly. Like the roots of a tree, strong ties provide your base of support in life. And just like the roots of a tree, strong ties need to be consistently nourished to provide a solid foundation.
Don’t feel you need to do epic acts or commit substantial time out of your day to build up your strong ties. Some examples of small things you can do include: making a conscious effort to praise others as you go about your day; asking your professional colleagues about their lives; or making a point to have meaningful conversations with your neighbours. Even simple gestures, done regularly, can make a big difference to you and other people in your life. The key is to make these acts a regular part of your routine.
Not all connections need to be close ones. Weak ties are all the broader connections within your communities — some of these connections are with people you may know in passing (a local shopkeeper, librarian, or even a homeless person) while others may be with people you don’t know yet (a local artist, politician, or a stranger you pass on the street). Strengthening these weak ties is important because it expands the overall size of your network and makes it more robust and resilient.
Here’s a quick story to illustrate the importance of weak ties. In 2011, Mark Carras was working as a barista at the café near my apartment, which I frequented a few times a week for my morning cappuccino. At the time, I only knew Mark in passing. Then, one day, I noticed he had shaved his beard into a classic 1970s style handlebar moustache. After complimenting him on his new look, we ended up chatting a little longer than usual. That conversation was the springboard to an eventual friendship. Over time, we slowly got to know each other — at first, during my regular visits to the café, then, later on, over coffee meetings of our own. During one of our chats, I learned that Mark had done community economic development work overseas, and so I told him about an opportunity I knew about through my networks: a six-month contract to do similar work in South Africa. It was a perfect fit, bringing together Mark’s training in economics and his interests in the environment. He applied for the position, and landed the job!
Sure, he won the post based on the strength of his application — but he discovered the opportunity through his networks. When I asked Mark about the importance of weak ties to his professional development, this is what he told me: “My weak ties and my broader network have been fundamental to my success, and it all comes from a willingness to be open and make that connection and nurture that relationship. You never know where these connections will lead.” You might spend more time with the people in your immediate networks, but do not overlook the value of your weak ties. As Mark’s story shows, you never know where a casual conversation may lead — even one that begins with a friendly comment on someone’s moustache.
Every day you interact with a wide range of people from different circles – family, friends, neighbours, coworkers, acquaintances, and even strangers. These people can be a tremendous source of support and resources as you work towards your goals. Getting their help, however, can be challenging. You have to find a way to engage them, and give them an appealing reason to get involved.
No matter how you make your pitch, your chances of success will be greater if you have established strong connections within the communities you belong to. When social ties are strong, people feel more connected and are more inclined to help and support one another. The good news is that anyone can strengthen their community connections. All it takes is deliberate and consistent practice, and a mindset of giving back.
The best part: strengthening your connections is good for you. Getting more connected within your community helps to give you a sense that you belong, reduces social isolation, improves your health and well-being, and can lead to more personal and professional opportunities. And you might just find that a stranger becomes a trusted friend.