Tapping into Dormant Ties: Reclaiming Lost Networking Potential
When people think of networking, they view it as mainly being about meeting new people. This is somewhat accurate. While you have a stable amount of people you already know (albeit some better than others), it is always nice to have another center of influence in your life.
Besides, while you have a number of people in your network, you seem to need to replace them from time to time. After all, life is not static. Upon high school graduation, it is not likely that you and your classmates will continue to occupy parallel lives. You each scatter.
You go off to different colleges and make new friends. Then you scatter again into the working world and accumulate other associates. Still life doesn’t stand still for long. There are promotions, relocations, new companies, and potentially different careers.
Life involves constant change, it seems. And with each change, life seems to naturally push or pull people in and out of your world.
Have you ever stopped to wonder about the people who seem to have fallen out of your life? Might there be networking potential wrapped up in those relationships? After all, you invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into some of those relationships. They trusted you. You trusted them. None of that has changed.
So, you’d think there would be some hidden social capital that you could tap into. In fact, science seems to indicate there is.
In 2011, three researchers collaborated on a study primarily aimed at determining whether people would benefit from reconnecting with dormant ties. For the purpose of the study, the researchers defined a dormant tie to be an individual someone had not communicated with for at least three years.
To conduct the study, the team identified 224 executive MBA students who were each actively involved in a project at their respective companies. They asked these students to reconnect with two of their dormant ties and, once reconnected, seek ideas, insight, or assistance on the project.
The researchers encouraged the students not to use e-mail to reconnect with these dormant ties, preferring that the reconnection be done via phone or (if possible) in person.
Prior to reaching out to these dormant ties, the students completed a survey to identify 15 people within their network who had consulted on the work project. For each of the 15 contacts, the researchers also wanted to know:
- The nature of the relationship the executive MBA student had with the active tie (such as, subordinates, supervisors, etc., or external colleagues and friends); and,
- To what extent each contact was “useful or not” in providing information for the work project.
After a month, the students completed a second survey to report how useful or not the information acquired from the dormant ties was to the outcome of the project.
After compiling and reviewing all the information provided, the research team determined that reconnecting with dormant ties gave the executive MBA students:
- Trust Continuation. The dormant ties seemed to maintain a high degree of trust with the executive MBA student (as compared to current ties), even though at least three years had passed since their last communication. According to the research team, it seemed that the trust and respect that the executive MBA students originally achieved in the relationship did not dissipate, even though the relationship went dormant.
- Novel Information. The dormant ties yielded more unique and useable information for the executive MBA student to apply to his or her work project (as compared to the current ties). According to the research team, it seemed that even though the relationship had become inactive, the dormant tie had continued to grow, having unique experiences that offered tremendous value to the executive MBA students.
No doubt, you have lots and lots of contacts. Additionally, you have many contacts where the relationship has, as the research team indicated, “drifted apart because of job mobility, divergent interests, or other time demands.” Despite this, there is networking potential that you can reclaim from these contacts.
The first step in doing this is simply to conduct an inventory or “roll call” of individuals in your network whom you have not communicated with in some time. Unlike the research study, you are not necessarily limited to people with whom you have not communicated in at least three years. You can add to this list anyone who is no longer on your radar.
The next step is to reconnect with the people on this list. While there is no real magic to how this should be done, it is advisable to follow sound networking practices. That is, do not just attempt to “get” from the dormant relationship but also find ways that you can add value.
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