Discover the Strength of Weak Ties

With weak ties, there's little interaction and emotional intimacy. However, they offer richer and more heterogeneous perspectives and opportunities than those that can be provided by your closest circle of friends.
Discover the Strength of Weak Ties
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 01 April, 2023

Your social relationships are one of your most precious assets. Indeed, the people you associate with provide you with connection, affection, support, and security. Moreover, having them around helps protect your mental and physical health.

However, when talking about your social circle, you probably think of your partner, family, or closest friends. But, did you know that it’s those who are least close to you who can open up greater life opportunities for you? In this article, we explore the strength of weak ties.

Some individuals are naturally extroverted, open, and communicative. They enjoy relating to all kinds of people and in all kinds of environments. Thanks to this, they tend to have a large number of contacts. On the other hand, there are some who value and prioritize deep and meaningful relationships, with great emotional bonding.

Neither option is superior to the other and whichever way you choose to be along with the choices you make is fine. That said, it’s possible that the former kinds of people have a certain advantage. Below, we’ll explain why.

Friends talking on the street

Weak-tie relationships are characterized by infrequent contact and low emotional involvement.

Weak ties

The weak ties theory was proposed by the American sociologist, Mark Granovetter in 1973. With this model, the author intended to explain how interactions at the micro level (between individuals) are related to patterns at the macro level (in societies). He pointed to weak ties as the main vehicle of this association. However, what exactly is a weak tie?

If you take a look at your personal relationships, you’ll realize that they’re not all the same. In fact, they differ in several ways. It all depends on how strong or weak they are.

  • The amount of time you share. How much of your day you dedicate to being with them and relating to them.
  • Emotional intensity. The degree of mutual personal involvement. For example, the feelings that bind you to your best friend are far more intense than those toward a work colleague.
  • Intimacy or mutual trust. This is built based on self-disclosure. In other words, how much you share with them, and how close to them you feel. Moreover, whether you’re secure enough to show your vulnerability to them.
  • Reciprocal services. How much you contribute mutually with them, either at a material or immaterial level. For instance, favors, emotional support, accompaniment, help, or guidance of any kind indicates how important a relationship is to you.

Thus, weak ties can be defined as those in which these characteristics are present at low levels. In effect, there’s a relationship between you, but the interaction isn’t particularly frequent, deep, or significant and your emotional involvement is minimal. In this category, we find acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, and not particularly close friends.

The strength of your weak ties propels you forward

You might expect those closest to you to offer you the most support since you’d assume they’d be more willing to do so than those with whom you’re less connected. However, the weak ties theory suggests that the stronger the bond between two people, the more likely it is that their friendship networks will overlap.

In other words, those closest to you will probably also be closely linked to each other. This isn’t just because they’re part of the same group of friends or family. In fact, even if you’ve introduced them, it’s likely that an affinity will develop between them and a bond will be created. This creates a common space of which you all form a part, but which excludes outsiders.

On the other hand, with weak ties, this doesn’t happen. For instance, a couple of your neighbors or peers are far less likely to get to know each other and connect on a deep level. But, it’s these people who can connect you with other realities, different from those of your closest nucleus, which may benefit you in various ways.

They broaden your perspective

The people with whom you form weak ties are able to provide you with new information and thus open up your mind. On the contrary, those closest to you generally share your opinions, perspectives, and life experiences. This can lead you to adopt a confirmatory bias which means you’re only interested in and you only interact with those who think like you.

Your acquaintances contribute different ideas. Not only theirs but also those of their other circles, nourishing and enriching you and helping you to gain new perspectives. Therefore, they can help you to become more empathetic and tolerant.

They offer you mobility and opportunities

These weak ties are critical for your individual opportunities, whether you’re looking for a job, seeking investors for your business, or trying to sell your flat. Indeed, those least close to you can often be the vehicle for information that you want to transmit to reach more people. They’re also in charge of sending you information outside your social circle that you may need.

For example, your neighbor might recommend a company to you that’s hiring people that you didn’t know about. Or, a colleague may put you in touch with an investor in their social circle, and a distant friend might know someone who’d like to buy your apartment. If you’d stayed solely in your own inner social circle, you’d never have heard about these opportunities.

They promote your integration into the community

Beyond the material plane, establishing less close relationships also favors your well-being and psychological health. As a social being, you need to be integrated into your community and feel that you’re part of it and are connected to others.

Sharing with your neighbors and acquaintances favors a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose and cooperation. As a matter of fact, this is so crucial that it can even reduce your risk of falling prey to addictive behavior.

They promote social cohesion

Finally, weak ties unite us as a society. Indeed, without them, we’d be nothing more than different and separate groups. For example, an individual who changes their job represents a link between two work environments (the previous and the current one). Consequently, they can transfer ideas and knowledge that come to be shared and, ultimately, improve the sector in which they work.

In much the same way, you’re a transmitter of knowledge and ideas among the different groups of people of which you form a part. So, you can contribute to promoting a particular social movement or a change of ideology. This wouldn’t occur if you only remained in a closed nucleus.

two people talking
Weak ties favor social cohesion and integration into the community.

Nurture your weak ties

In light of the above, it’s clear that weak ties are really powerful and relevant, both individually and socially. So if you find yourself hesitating to open up and share with others, or feel that less deep and intense relationships have nothing to contribute to you, remember the opportunities that could come your way if you cultivate them properly.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.