The Power of Reconnection — How Dormant Ties Can Surprise You

The Web has made it easier than ever to reconnect with long-lost professional colleagues. Does it pay to do so? New research says yes — and suggests that every smart manager will try.

The world of networking continues to expand. For years, people have been encouraged to build a strong, wide personal network to get information and keep connected. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other Internet sites have made everything about this task easier than ever. In particular, they have made access to long-lost friends, colleagues and acquaintances as easy as a few keystrokes. Now with relative ease, people can reactivate what may have seemed like dead connections. Are those reconnections valuable — particularly in terms of the world of work? Not too long ago, both researchers and many members of the general public assumed that neglected relationships would lose their value and, ultimately, wither and die. And even though networks of contacts are obviously important for many things — finding a job, getting your work done, learning new things and providing social and emotional support — there is only so much time in a day. As a result, there is a limit to how many relationships a person can actively maintain, which is one reason why so many relationships become dormant in the first place.

The Leading Question

It’s easier than ever to reconnect your dormant relationships. Is it worth it?

Findings
  • Dormant ties are as valuable — and often even more valuable — than current ties.
  • Insights from dormant ties tend to be more novel, and more efficient to get, than those from current ties.
  • The pool of helpful dormant ties is surprisingly deep.

Now, though, what used to happen only rarely — at reunions or chance encounters — can happen after a memory, a whim and minimal effort. Moreover, not only are reconnections so much easier to make; it turns out that the old presumption that dormant ties have no value was wrong. Reconnecting dormant ties provides a whole host of benefits, many of them unexpected. Our research shows that reconnecting dormant relationships is more than just fun — it can be extremely useful. We prompted hundreds of executives to consult people whom they had not been in contact with for three years or more. We asked them to make the reconnection, in person or via telephone, and use their interactions to get information or advice that might help them on an important work project.

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References

1. P.D. Killworth, E.C. Johnsen, H.R. Bernard, G.A. Shelley and C. McCarty, “Estimating the Size of Personal Networks,” Social Networks 12, no. 4 (December 1990): 289-312.

2. C. Thompson, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” New York Times Magazine, Sept. 7, 2008, sec. MM, p. 42.

3. W.E. Baker, Achieving Success Through Social Capital: Tapping Hidden Resources in Your Business and Personal Networks” (New York: Wiley, 2000).

i. D.Z. Levin, J. Walter and J.K. Murnighan, “Dormant Ties: The Value of Reconnecting,” Organization Science, in press.

ii. R. Cross, L. Sproull, “More Than an Answer: Information Relationships for Actionable Knowledge,” Organization Science 15, no. 4 (July-August 2004): 446-462.

iii. R.S. Burt, “Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital” (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2005).

4 Comments On: The Power of Reconnection — How Dormant Ties Can Surprise You

  • Phil O'Brien | April 2, 2011

    Excellent article and piece of research. There is some “desktop” research I carried out last year that also backs this up. I’d been “funemployed” after selling my business several years ago – and took my contacts book and re-initiated relationships with a sample of 50 people via LinkedIn. More details are here – http://wp.me/pYnfH-2c.

    Your work is far more analytical than mine – but thought it might be of interest too. Thanks. Phil

  • Rita Ashley | April 24, 2011

    The article adds support to my notion that people want to help, they just need to know what help looks like.

    Job seekers are often embarrassed to contact current, let alone old connections. The article may encourage them because the end justifies the means. I will certainly share it.

    The article states: We asked them to make the reconnection, in person or via telephone, and use their interactions to get information or advice that might help them on an important work project.”

    The fact is that ANY personal contact, not just dormant (as apposed to digital) will render greater results than the passive social network or email route. It has always been true that people respond best to personal connections. My guess is that is the real variable in producing the statistically significant outcome.

    Rita Ashley, Career Coach

  • Julia Erickson | May 2, 2011

    This is a very valuable article for job seekers, and for people who want to advance in their careers.

    For people who are shy or nervous about reconnecting, it helps to keep it simple at first. With a short script, it’s much easier to reconnect with dormant ties, especially on LinkedIn.

    I recommend adding a personal note to the standard “I’d like to add you…” that simply says “Great to see you on LinkedIn – hope you’re doing well.” Once the connection is made, you can ask a question, suggest coffee or drinks to catch up, etc.

    Usually people are so glad to hear from you that they’re pleased to reconnect. And they might have been too shy to reconnect…so you do them a favor, too.

  • 7 Steps for Legal Professionals to Build Strong Online Presence | Leadership Close Up | December 20, 2013

    […] Write a brief tickler to your post and do an update via Linkedin (that taps into your own network including your dormant social ties). […]

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