High school reunions used to be a much more important thing to do. It was the one time every few years that everyone could get together and catch up. I remember my mom’s excitement when another five years rolled around and it was time for her to reconnect with old friends. As I entered high school in the mid 90s I wondered if we would be able to maintain our connections the way her 70s era classmates did.
Enter the internet, smart phones and social media. These advents irrevocably changed the entire dynamic of how we keep in touch. At the click of a mouse you can peer into the life of a distant friend, co-worker or associate. They post pictures of their kids, vacations, and other milestones. You can easily do the same. Our fingers race across keyboards and touchscreens, sending quick messages via an email or a comment, “effectively” interacting with someone that we haven’t spoken with on a regular basis. We carry the equivalent of a 1990s supercomputer in our pockets nowadays, with as ubiquitous internet connectivity as there is cell phone wireless coverage. When a few of us tried to set up a 15 year high school class reunion a couple years back no one showed any real interest simply because “we see what each other has going on through Facebook” (the number one response we received for not doing one).
With all this connectivity we are still human, and without proper management and sustainment it goes without saying that relationships still can grow dormant. This happens in both our personal and professional relationships. Both researchers of connectivity and people within the general public safely assume that neglected relationships lose their value and wither away. Naturally, one could probably make the assumption that this new age internet medium would foster LESS losses, but this isn’t the case. With the ability to maintain or spark more new connections, it’s just as easy nowadays to lose the ties we make. With that being said, back in late January we even wrote a blog about managing connections by actively cutting some off. In it we discussed Dunbar’s number – the average number of social connections one can maintain meaningfully, which is about 150 people. As our network grows past that height inactivity and wasted energy saps us in the relationships that are important to us, so it behooves us to effectively prune our standing relationships.
Recent research at MIT shows us that there is a power in reconnecting, though. It appears that our lost relationships don’t completely lose value. They asked 224 executives in four executive MBA classes — three in the United States, one in Canada – to contact two people they hadn’t talked to in the last three years. The first person had to be someone with whom they once had a close relationship, while the second person was someone they once had a weak relationship, defined mostly as distant. After they reconnected they were surveyed about their two reconnections, which were each assigned a value. These values were then compared with two randomly selected, current relationships (one close, one distant) that they continually consult. Their research findings tell us that there are many benefits to reestablishing connections.
They found three main results:
1) Dormant ties are excellent sources of unexpectedly novelty. That connection you once had has gone on and most likely has had several new experiences in their own lives, separate from your own, that you can now tap into as a resource.
2) Next, they found that there isn’t the same level of inertia required as starting new relationships from scratch. You refocus your relationship off of the base level of trust and shared perspective you already had, which they found actually hadn’t faded as much as most think.
3) An unexpected result was that rekindling these old relationships was actually pretty efficient, making them have a higher “bang-for-buck” than most of our day to day connections. They usually involve people you don’t see everyday, so they still require only minimal maintenance.
Think of what these could mean to you with respect to the possibilities for mentorship!
This research should depict a realization that becomes very clear – we all should look to reconnect. We simply do not use our dormant ties as much as we should and we in-turn massively overlook the potential in them. Nancy Kalish, Ph.D., a developmental psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento, has researched more than 2,000 reconnections and personal reunions. She’s found that neuroscience research suggests that positive relationships are encoded in our brain’s pleasure centers, the same way cocaine or nicotine addiction can be. Seeing these people again, talking with them on the phone, or even reading an e-mail can trigger the past emotive responses and memories of your prior connection. They retain powerful value that should be tapped into.
Today we may not need a high school or college reunion as much because reconnecting is easier and faster than ever. Back in February a guest poster Rhiannon Guzelian wrote about reigniting old connections. She helped us lay out the steps you can take to rekindle a dormant connection or two. There are hidden benefits walking around your past. Is there a potential teacher, colleague, or boss that could now be a mentor for you going forward? Can you reconnect with someone and grow a more meaningful, lasting, or professional connection with? Why don’t you start up a conversation with one of them that may spark a new transformation in you.
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