Do you want some really strong contacts? Close friends, trusted colleagues, people who know you and trust you enough to give you jobs and contracts and responsibilities and whatever other kind of help and support you need?

This post isn’t about them. But it is about how you get them. Bottom line: you don’t start at BFF level. And not everyone you meet has the potential to get there, either. There’s a whole middle ground category that needs a lot of love if you hope to end up with the kind of solid network that includes those contacts that mean the most to you.

This middle ground holds the people you know just a little bit. They might be acquaintances, or people you used to be close with, but not so much at the moment. They might be people you know just to say hi as you cross paths in the elevator or at the store or at the bus stop.

The funnel

Social scientists and other connection nerds (like me) call these “loose” or “weak” ties. Without them, it’s tough to ever get any “tight” ties. Think about it like a funnel:

Allllll the folks you know are in this funnel somewhere. The top part is big and it has more people. These are your weak ties. You’re not that close with them for whatever reason, or at least not at the moment. You don’t put a heck of a lot into those relationships and you don’t usually get much out of them either.

As you move down the funnel, you have people who are increasingly close to you in it, and there are fewer of them. This means those connections require more attention and resources to maintain but they’re also probably more rewarding.

At the bottom of the funnel there are the people who are closest to you. Your best friend, your business partner, your close family members, is what we’re talking about here. You spend the most time and energy on them but there are only a few of them.

Those people at the bottom are the best. They’re the ones we can call up in the middle of the night, the people we can rely on for everything from helping us get a job to moving to building a deck. We love them, of course.

In praise of people you barely know

But the people at the top of the funnel are important, too, for a few reasons:

  • Almost no one starts out at the bottom of your funnel. Our moms, sure, but just about everybody else starts out on the fringes of our lives and gradually works their way in closer as we get to know them better and build trust. Without the top of that funnel, the bottom won’t stay full for long.
  • Close ties don’t always stay close, however much we might like them to. We might grow apart or people might move away or, to be blunt, people die. If we put all our social eggs in just a few baskets and we lose those baskets, there go all our eggs.
  • The people who get really close tend to have a lot in common with us and sometimes we need a little something different. I, for example, tend to get close with more white collar, urban folks, because we go to the same kinds of events and activities and live in the same neighbourhoods. However, what if I need an electrician to do some work on my house? I’d better hope I know at least one, or else I’m stuck searching Google with my fingers crossed.

Weak ties need intentional love

There’s a temptation to neglect weak ties when we’ve got some strong ties in place. If it feels like almost all our needs are being met by close friends, colleagues and family, it can be hard to make the time to check in with that old classmate who moved to Chicago.

Although we need both strong and weak ties, weak ties are much easier to neglect.

So why not schedule 10 minutes a day in your calendar to keep your weak ties alive? That’s all it takes, and you’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish in such a small amount of time. For more details on how, read our past post on the importance of checking in, or try our 30 Days to a Better Social Life Boot Camp.