How to grow and nurture your network without losing your sanity

We have been talking about the importance of business networking for the 21st century employee. Part of this is growing your network but that raises a number of questions: how big should your network be? How many connections is enough? Is there in fact a limit to the size of your network?

We live in hectic times. We all wake up in the morning feeling we didn’t get enough sleep and go to bed feeling we didn’t get enough done. In among this hectic schedule you now have to carve out time to network more. What’s worse is that as you do find the time and your network grows, you will come up against the same harsh reality that everyone else does. Doing this well can take up a lot of time and effort; and we all only have the same 24 hours to work with each day.

The problem is that once established, relationships require just as much effort to keep them alive, especially once it becomes physically difficult to meet face-to-face on a regular basis. It is the effort we put into a friendship that signals our honesty and reliability as a friend.

This is because relationships are like plants, they need constant attention to stop them withering and dying.

In this crazy, hectic world we live in where the boundaries between work and life are increasingly blurred, we have all had the feeling that we are so busy running to stand still that we have neglected important relationships, both at work but more importantly with our closest friends and family.

How then do some people manage to grow and maintain networks of thousands, while others struggle managing their couple of hundred connections?

But wait, it’s not all doom and gloom. Before you disappear into a vortex of self-loathing and despair let’s look at this a little closer.

When we better understand the structure and nature of social networks and the distinction between the role that weak and strong ties play we see hope.

For a long time the prevailing wisdom around the size and scale of one’s personal network has been derived by the work of Robert Dunbar. Based on anthropological research, Dunbar a suggested a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. That number was 150 and became known as Dunbar’s Number.

Dunbar’s research suggests that to keep an intimate friendship alive, we have to contact the person at least once every few days in a meaningful way, while to keep a good friendship active we need to contact the friend at least once every few weeks.

While this is true that relationships take a lot of time to nurture, it is only applicable to your strong ties. As we have pointed out previously, there is a lot of value in your weak ties.

No matter the advances in technology, we can only maintain strong relationships with a relatively small number of people but this fact doesn’t stop us growing a strong extended network in this increasingly connected world.

Understanding this difference and tailoring your actions based on this will allow you to grow your network at the same time as keeping your sanity in check.

Just as the type of connection performs a different role in the overall network so too does the type and level of activity required to keep the relationship alive differ.

It is not a case of either developing deep ties or strong ties but rather developing both strong and weak ties. In doing so you’ll not only reap the benefits of both strong and weak ties, but they will allow the people in your network to interact more effectively and to everyone’s mutual benefit, with you playing a vital part, and that’s where the value is.

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