In analyzing relationships between people: What distinguishes a strong tie from a weak tie?
– Age of the relationship. Have you known the person for a long time?
– Frequency of contact. The amount of time you two spend together.
– Emotional attachment. Do you care about the other person?
– Reciprocity. Do you regularly do random acts of kindness for your tie, and do they regularly do random acts of kindness for you?
– Kinship. Even if you do not see your cousin very often, you still likely have a strong tie to him because of your family bond.
Weak ties are usually only activated for a specific purpose, rather than being part of a multi-layered emotional relationship. The manager of your corporate mail room is likely a weak tie to you. You interact with her because you need something from her; you need your package weighed. You usually do not interact with her except for that purpose.
Although your weak ties can produce great value, it is typically the strong ties that provide you with a sense of companionship, comfort, and security. Stronger does not mean more valuable or “better” . Strong and weak, in this context, simply imply different types of relationships.
We recommend building a portfolio of both strong and weak ties. Strong ties require that you invest significant amounts of time. We recommend making that investment with your family, boss, immediate colleagues, and a few selected other people. That sturdy infrastructure is critical, particularly when you are under stress.
You only have time and attention to handle a few strong ties. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar , and popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, the human brain is hard-wired to handle a maximum of about 150 active social connections. In addition to the time requirements to maintain those relationships, they occupy space in our mind even when we are not in contact with them. Even with electronic tools, it is extremely difficult to sustain more than about 150 strong ties. Fortunately, electronic tools such as contact managers and online social networks allow us to develop a much larger network of weak ties. They relieve our brains of some of the workload of maintaining all those relationships.