How to Expand Your Social Circle and Create Lasting Connections

Showing a little bit of gratitude goes a long way in establishing strong friendships.

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Connecting and forging bonds with others is critical to our well-being, says researcher Marissa King, a sociologist, researcher, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and the author of Social Chemistry (Buy It, $17, amazon.com).

Here, she breaks down how to decode your social behavior and form networks that will make you healthier, happier, and more successful.

We think of "networking" as a business term. Why is it so important to our personal lives?

"As human beings, we're built to be social creatures. No matter what you hope to achieve — emotional support, thriving in your relationships, doing well at work — it involves other people. Also, others are our greatest source of joy. The best moments in our lives have to do with who was there with us. Our networks are those people."

In your research, you've found different types of social networks. How do you determine what kind you have?

"We know that most people's networks are one of three types. The first is expansionists. These are people who have extraordinarily large networks, which gives them a lot of influence, visibility, and power. They're really good at working a room. The downside is that even though expansionists know a lot of people, they don't know them well. So they're often predisposed to loneliness.

"The second type is brokers. What's distinctive about them is that they tend to be connected to disparate groups of people. For instance, they may work in marketing, but they also have a separate batch of lawn-bowling friends. Brokers bring together groups that don't normally interact, and by combining these viewpoints and experiences, they get innovative and creative ideas.

"The third type is conveners. This group has a dense web of interactions, and they spend a lot of time investing in and maintaining relationships. Within their network, most people know one another. They also provide emotional support. For most of us, knowing a lot of people isn't what's most beneficial. Understanding our network type is far more important."

Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection

Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection
Amazon

How do our networks first develop?

"Typically, they're accidents. Networks are shaped by unconscious decisions: living in a house at the end of a cul-de-sac, where you sit in the office, whether you have children. All these choices tend to determine who we come into contact with and what our network signature looks like." (

Can we change them?

"Our networks are constantly evolving. For instance, during the pandemic, my colleagues and I found that networks shrank by close to 17 percent in the first wave. But by being more conscious about our networks and thinking about concrete actions we can take, we can easily begin to transform them. Say you're struggling with loneliness. Think about introducing people you already know to one another. The more connections that exist between the people we know, the greater the sense of trust and support we get from them.

"Also, research shows that one of the best ways you can cultivate your network is to reach out to people you haven't seen in two to three years. The people we've lost touch with give us new, and often better, insights. We trust them because we already have relationships with them. I know it can be awkward to reconnect, but there are some good ways to make it easier. For example, say, 'Hey, I read this great article, and it made me think of you.' A small token to let a person know you're thinking of them is very powerful. Or thank them — studies find that gratitude really strengthens relationships. Say, 'That advice you gave me changed things, and it still makes a difference today.' Anyone would want to be on the receiving end of that." (See also: How to Deal with the Changing Landscape of Your Friendships)

What else works when it comes to making our relationships stronger?

"The most powerful tool for connecting is listening. Think about it: It's rare to truly be heard. Everyone is so distracted. Or we're jumping in with a comment or giving advice. Just sit and listen. The amazing thing is, it takes only 90 seconds of really being heard to have a profound effect on a person.

"Also, be conscious and intentional when it comes to your relationships. For instance, every Friday, take 10 minutes to reach out to people you've lost touch with. If you haven't seen your neighbor, check in to make sure they're doing okay. Being intentional is critical to maintaining our bonds, and far too often we just don't do it."

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