Think of your LinkedIn or Facebook connections and how many of those count as good friends or more tenuous connections.
While we may prioritize our closest, casual and informal connections are essential in helping us feel a sense of belonging and understanding. Think of your social circle as the following: strong ties are people you know well and interact with regularly. They may be family or friends and can support you under tough circumstances. Picture your strong ties as a social bubble that surrounds you. Weak ties are acquaintances that enrich your life with short and informal interactions. They can be a server or Lyft driver that brightens your day, or a friend of a friend you interact with on social media occasionally. Weak ties serve as a bridge between social bubbles. In essence, weak ties add variety and new information that remind us we are part of a larger social network.
Strong and weak ties are both equally important – all of our existing strong ties once started off as weak ones. Just as it’s depicted in movies where the main character gains insightful advice from their hairdresser, weak ties can also support us in ways similar to what our strong ties offer. In a study conducted by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, 83.3% of participants who recently switched roles had secured their job through contacts they saw occasionally or rarely. The existence of weak ties can broaden the amount of opportunities we have access to and create meaningful moments.
However, with the impact of COVID-19, social interactions that used to feel spontaneous and organic have to be cultivated and planned. So how can we reach out and acknowledge people in our lives we aren’t particularly close to?
One way is to start out by sending a short message through text or social media. This allows the other person to read it and respond at a convenient time.
Secondly, set the tone of your message as short and informal. The objective of your message is to let the other person know you are thinking of them and to open up the opportunity to chat if they want to. It is okay to have a short exchange.
Thirdly, consider reaching out to people who have had an impact on your life, such as past mentors and colleagues. Expressing gratitude has been scientifically shown to improve health and help us manage negative emotions.