A few weeks ago, I organized a dinner for some people I knew would be at a writing conference. When I invited Alisa Bowman, author of Project Happily Ever After, she said she’d love to come—and she asked to bring along another writer. I said that was a great idea. Then I realized that, even though I like meeting people, I couldn’t recall a time I’d asked a host to expand a group. Why didn’t that ever occur to me?
Clearly "connectors"—people who bring people together—think differently than the rest of us.
So I emailed Bowman to ask how connectors like her viewed the world. Bowman responded that "I don’t think of myself as a connector at all," but then she offered to think of people "who might connect more often than I do" and put me in touch with them. She realized that was classic connector behavior. Speaking with her and other connectors, here’s what I learned about how they work, and what all of us who’d like to connect more can learn from that.
When Bowman first thought she couldn’t answer my questions, her brain immediately thought of other people who could. "By connecting you with someone else, I don't feel inadequate about not being able to help," Bowman says.
"I help by suggesting someone else for you to talk to. That way you end up happy because you get an awesome interview with an awesome person. And (the other person) ends up happy because she learns that I think she's a connector." Connectors know that even "no" can build bonds if you handle it right.
Connectors aren’t unaware of the career benefit of what they do, though it’s usually not a straight exchange. "I often forget who’ve I've helped with what," Bowman says.
People thank her for her advice, "And I'm all like, ‘I gave you advice? Was it good advice? When did this go down?’ At the same time, I feel as if I have an enormous support net and that gives me courage to take risks in my career and life in general."
To a connector, life is good when a lot of people feel like you’ve done them favors. So you’re always looking for a way to squeeze an extra favor into the day.
We all have an easier time remembering some things than others. I rarely use the wrong kind of "you’re/your" or "it’s/its" but I have trouble producing a list of, say, people I know in Boston. Connector brains prioritize the people part.
"I'm naturally a people person and I remember things about people," says author Jennifer Margulis, another "connector" friend of Bowman. "But the people I usually connect have more in common than, say, just living in Boston. Maybe they have a love for French language and culture, or maybe they are working in the same area in the field of health and wellness."
As she talks to people, her brain is automatically working through its filing cabinet. "I think the idea to connect two people almost always comes to me during conversations with people. For example, a doctor who is also an excellent writer was telling me she wanted to do a column. I instantly thought of an editor for her to talk to, because in a recent conversation with that editor she had mentioned how hard it was to find doctors and other highly trained professionals who could write well."
Of course, connectors won’t just bring anyone together, just as a matchmaker wouldn’t pair up random people and expect a happy marriage. Connectors tend to be relatively selective about it, especially over time as the number of successful or famous people in their circles grow. "I wouldn’t introduce two people if I didn’t think they’d like each other. Nor would I do it if I thought one person would benefit, but the other person would be burdened by it," says Bowman.
Marci Alboher, vice president of the nonprofit Encore.org, has introduced me to roughly half the people I know. She is also a careful connector. "I don’t work under the assumption that people want to meet each other, or that it’s the right time for people to meet each other," she says. "When I’m asked to be a connector the most important thing is to try to help the person who’s asking but not be an imposition on the person being asked." She favors the "double opt-in"—both parties have to agree—and then she favors the forward-able email. "I will say ‘Great, why don’t you send me an email that lays out why you want to meet this person, and why they may want to meet you.’"
Even with this care, Alboher and other connectors try to bring people together more often than not. They know that bringing two people together makes them both like you more. Sometimes they have good reasons to like you more.
Margulis recently introduced a writer to a literary agent and they went on to get a seven-figure book contract together. She honestly basks in the joy of this, rather than succumbing to the jealousy plenty of other people would feel.
"You know how your worst fear in junior high is that if you introduce your friends to each other they’ll realize they like each other better than they like you and you’ll be left out? I don’t ever feel that way," Margulis says. Connectors just fundamentally get a big chunk of their happiness from bringing people together. That’s why they’re connectors.
Connectors don’t have to be extraverts. Bowman describes herself an occasional hermit. "When I do venture out, it's nice to see as many people as I can in the same location, which often requires putting new people together in the same room," she says. She wasn’t going to do that many dinners during our conference, which is why she needed to invite her other friend along if she was going to see both me and him.
But many are big personality, outgoing types. Alboher likes to throw parties, both intimate dinner parties and bigger soirees that require renting out a bar. In either case, she’ll do her homework beforehand to think about which of her acquaintances need to meet each other, and how she can make sure that happens. "A sad event is when I figure out, 'Oh, you two were in the same room and you didn’t get to meet!'" she says. "I didn’t do the work and two people who could really benefit from knowing each other weren’t aware!"