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Reaching out to show someone that you’re thinking of them can make you both feel a bit closer. But sometimes we can feel uncertain about taking that first step. Here's how to do it.
First, think of the right way to reach out — is it a text, a phone call, an email, a Facebook message? What will put the least amount of pressure on the recipient? If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. Think about this interaction as similar to smiling at a colleague in the hallway: Sometimes you might stop and chat, and sometimes you might not. Instead of expecting a reply, enjoy the knowledge that your message is likely to deliver a little hit of happiness for the recipient.
Set an expectation for a short and simple conversation — it will help avoid the feeling that socializing is another item on your to-do list. And if you do end up talking, share something about yourself — maybe a photo of your pet or child doing something funny — to help build positive rapport.
It may feel awkward at first, but reaching out to an acquaintance will create a spark of joy for both of you while you’re out of each other’s sight.
- Use informal modes of communication
Phone calls can feel intrusive, and emails seem impersonal. Instead, try reaching out to a “weak tie” via text message or Facebook. This will allow the other person to respond whenever they can, so you don’t need to worry about reaching out at the wrong time.
- Don’t expect a reply
Rejection rates when reaching out to a weak tie are extremely low — in one of Gillian’s studies fewer than 12% of people who talked to strangers experienced a rejection. However, during the pandemic, many people are feeling overwhelmed and some may not respond.
If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. Remind yourself that the point of reaching out to a weak tie is to let this person know that you are thinking about them. Reframe your expectations: Think about this interaction as smiling at a colleague in the hallway. You’re acknowledging and saying hello to the other person. Perhaps you’ll talk for a few minutes — but if you don’t that’s fine too.
Instead of expecting a reply, enjoy the knowledge that your message is likely to deliver a little hit of happiness, and maybe, like it did for Ashley, could make a real difference in someone’s day.
- Set an expectation for a short and simple conversation.
Your goal is to let the other person know you are thinking about them and open up the opportunity to chat, if they want to. It’s okay to keep the conversation short: In recent data one of us collected, a “just right” conversation with a stranger was about 10 minutes long. If you set the expectation that you only have a few minutes, this lets you both off the hook, and helps you avoid the feeling that socializing is another endless “to-do.”
- Reach out to people who have affected you in the past.
Expressing gratitude is a powerful way to improve mood. If you had a colleague who inspired you, or a mentor who gave you excellent career advice, let them know you are thinking of them. Or you could reach out to someone you shared fun times but have lost touch with. You’ll both enjoy the nostalgic flashback.
- Share something personal about yourself.
If you aren’t sure what to write about, share something personal about yourself — like a photo of your pet or child doing something cute and/or funny. Sharing aspects of yourself helps to build positive rapport and encourages the other person to reciprocate.
Draw on Weak-Tie Strategies with Strong Ties Too
Now that our social interactions are often limited to strong ties, and we schedule hour-long calls and board game nights to spend quality time together, we are at risk for becoming burned out. In data that we’ve collected post-Covid-19, we found that the more time that people spent interacting with colleagues and friends online, the more stressed out they felt.
As these data suggest, scheduled social interactions are exhausting. Also, they do not work for everyone. People in different time zones, with bad internet connection, who are juggling demanding care-giving and work responsibilities might not have time for formal means of connection that require advanced scheduling, like family or company-mandated happy hours.
We can repurpose the informality and spontaneity of weak-tie interactions to help us stay connected while reducing the risk of burnout. Right now, the best social interactions are those that tell others you are thinking of them, without an expectation of a return of time, energy, or attention.
If studying weak ties has taught us anything, it is that we need to practice self-compassion. We might not have the energy for 1.5 hour long social calls every day. That is perfectly alright.
The best research shows that even a few minutes of texting is enough to improve your mood and spread joy within your social network — perhaps more than that never-ending game of Pictionary.
We might be missing out on our weak tie interactions right now, but it is in our power to create them. An informal hello with a colleague — or your mother — is only a short text message away. #motivation #knowledge #wisdom