Why A Friendly Reconnection Can Boost Your Career

Thinking of purging your Facebook friends? Think twice: Research shows that the people you used to know can be surprisingly excellent to you.

You know that feeling when you reconnect with a long-lost classmate, colleague, amigo, or amiga? As Wharton professor and Give and Take author Adam Grant explains, what you're experiencing is the power of a dormant tie--a part of your network that is surprisingly powerful and surprisingly overlooked.

As we've noted before, a network isn't that big a deal--as Lifehacker Alan Henry observed, all "networking" really entails "is making new friends and staying in touch with old ones, both at and around work."

But while it might sound cold, it can be helpful to sort out those relationships, or as network theorists would say, ties. They come in three flavors: strong, weak, and dormant.

Strong ties are the people that you know well; weak ties, not so well. Strong ties are great because they will help you move out of your apartment, but the thing is that you probably share the same contacts and knowledge as they do. Weak ties, on the other hand, have connections and understanding that you don't have--so be good to them and they might help you find a job (or a date). But the third kind, the dormant, is one you might overlook.

"When you haven't seen people in three or five years, you can't predict what novel ideas and networks they'll be able to share," Grant observes. "And it turns out that the older you get, the more valuable dormant ties become. Along with having more of them, they've had more time to meet amazing people and accomplish amazing things."

Awesome, right? Funnily enough, dormant ties are a relatively new designation, coined by researchers Daniel Z. Levin, Jorge Walter, and J. Keith Murnighan. Writing previously at the Sloan Review, Levchin and company describe the payoffs of dormant ties in three major ways:

  1. Dormant ties are sources of "unexpectedly novel insights"
  2. Reconnecting happens rapidly, making the time investment "minimal"
  3. A reconnection isn't a new relationship: "People still have feelings of trust and a shared perspective, which are critical for receiving valuable knowledge from someone."

The nonsleazy reconnect

We've previously discussed how the whole idea of networking can cause one to need a shower--is there a more slimy-sounding award than best networker? But it need not be: As Grant, the Wharton professor, argued at book length, the key to getting ahead is giving.

Why? As Grant argues in a LinkedIn post, it's easiest to reconnect if you've been generous in the past, while if you've been a reptile throughout your career, your old contacts will lock the door to their networks.

The takeaways, then, are twofold: first, to be kind to people because you have no idea what they'll be up to in the years to come, and second, to be vigilant about making your reconnections. Grant has a solid system:

After learning about these ideas, I added a repeating reminder to my calendar: Reconnect with at least one dormant tie each month... Instead of asking them for help, I’ve been searching for ways to help them--sometimes by sharing knowledge, in other cases by making introductions. In my experience, rekindling old connections has become a source of meaning and happiness.

Hat tip: LinkedIn.

[Image: Flickr user Kgnixer]

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1 Comments

  • Bud Bilanich

    This is a great article.  I always advise my career coaching clients to build their networks before they need them.  You go one step further and show folks how to do so.  I particularly like what you have to say about being nice and being respectful of everybody -- because it's the right things to do, and because you never know where people end up.  Great job!