Building Bridges: when less is more

Mark Granovetter is famous for his ideas on weak ties within social networks. Although his most famous work is over 40 years old, it’s still relevant nowadays. I’ll start with an outline of his main ideas, if you want more detail I recommend you read the original article in the American Journal of Sociology (1973).

Granovetter starts with the premise that within social networks there are different degrees of relationships. He suggests that intuitively we recognize our relationships as strong, weak or absent. Two people who share a strong tie are likely to spend time together and share interests as well as character traits. They are also likely to share friends and relationships. This leads to the development of a close network of people.


Enter the weak ties

Weak ties link people who do not know each other well , perhaps only in passing or as an acquaintance. These ties, according to Granovetter, can act as bridges from one close network to another. A bridge is a point in a network that provides the only path from one person to another. If you wish to learn more about this, you can read the Social Capital Blog. The basic idea presented by Granovetter is that “no strong tie is a bridge”. On the other hand, certain weak ties are bridges to other networks, other sources of information and other influencers.


The strength in the weak links

Closed networks have, according to Granovetter, only strong links and few or no links to other people in other networks. These networks run the risk of suffocating and, under the right circumstances can die out. Networks need weak links or bridges to expand and to grow. New blood, new contacts, new information, new insights, new sources of help are needed. This will help to spread ideas and messages more efficiently. Get out of your comfort zone and make the most of any weak links you have. Additionally, even though it is more challenging, you can start building links with people you don’t know yet. This process will be much more interesting and rewarding.


Bridges and Sales

How does this help those of us who work in sales?

  • No strong relationship is a bridge, the people you’ve known for years might not be able to help you expand your network and make new contacts.
  • You cannot only rely on your strong links if you want to extend the reach of your messages and ideas. Get out of comfort zone and meet new people.
  • Some weak relationships will act as bridges, so new professional contacts are potential gateways. Use your existing weak links to expand and reach new people. Always ask if they know other people who might be interested in what you do. If you have made a good impression, they will be happy to recommend you to their professional or personal contacts.
  • Some weak relationships will act as bridges, but how do I know which ones? For the moment, let’s keep it simple. Pretend you don’t know and you never will, but ask for recommendations all the same.