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When Yale University organizational behaviour professor Marissa King starts to talk about networks, about a third of her classes of MBA and executive education students become physically uncomfortable. They cross their arms, avert their eyes or shuffle papers. “People just don’t want to think about the people in their lives in a purposeful way,” she writes in her recent book Social Chemistry.

Yet there are few things in life more important than our relationships and the networks of people we surround ourselves with, argues Erica Young, a principal at the Anthemis venture capital group. We should consciously think about them but are prevented by a set of unconscious beliefs and biases. “You can think about them like arbitrary lines in the sand,” she writes about networks on The Reliants Project blog.

She outlined 10 limiting beliefs, starting with these big three:

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  • The belief that making effort with your network is self-serving: Here she urges you to think of “network” as a noun instead of a verb. The verb is intentional and deliberate, and thus seen as negative. But a network – the noun – is a result. It can arise from pro-actively cultivating relationships with the intention to make them mutually beneficial, rather than purely self-serving.
  • The belief that building a network is for extroverts only: “While some people do have an affinity for relating to people and others find it more challenging, you don’t have to be the most outgoing person in the room to make meaningful connections,” Ms. Young says. People who are introverted can seek out situations that allow them to connect more easily one on one. She recommends asking for direct introductions from friends or colleagues, which will create a greater degree of comfort and trust in the interaction.
  • The belief that if you’re good at what you do, you don’t need a network: Even if you’re good at what you do, your network still matters because a single relationship can be the difference between getting access to a new opportunity or not. It gives you access to new ideas and different perspectives that could improve your performance.

Time can also limit us. In a time-starved era we fear we can’t devote enough time to maintaining a big network so we hold back.

Ms. King urges you to see your network as a series of concentric circles. Your innermost circle will be the two to five people you would turn to in times of severe emotional and financial distress. The next level – defined as your sympathy group by anthropologist Robin Dunbar – are 15 or so people you feel emotionally close to. Usually you would be in touch with them monthly.

Next are the 50 or so people you might invite to a barbecue, but wouldn’t disclose your innermost secrets to. Then comes a set of casual friends and stable contacts, about 150 people in most cases. Beyond that you have about 450 to 600 acquaintances, people you would have seen in recent prepandemic years but do not regularly keep in touch with.

“If you are deeply invested in your innermost circle, you have less time for casual friends,” Ms. King says. “If you spend a significant amount of time catching up with and seeing acquaintances, you may find it difficult to develop a strong sympathy group.”

To connect with others – sharing and helping each other – you must move beyond limiting beliefs, figure out how much time to give to others, and manage that time effectively.

Quick Hits

  • Now that we have passed the halfway mark of the year, executive coach Dan Rockwell urges you to reflect on what area you have lost momentum in since the start of 2021.
  • Don’t rush back to work on the last afternoon or evening of your vacation, warns consultant Peter Bregman. Unpack, do the laundry, and stay with family needs. And next morning, before plunging into voice mails and e-mail, think about what you most liked about yourself on the vacation – perhaps it was the relaxed way you listened to people – and how to maintain that in the coming days.
  • Choosing your priority is as important as working on it, notes Atomic Habits writer James Clear.
  • Career coach Alyson Garrido concedes it takes guts at the end of an interview to ask, “Do you have any concerns about my candidacy?” But it gives you the opportunity to directly address any concerns the interviewer has and make the case for your hiring.
  • Instead of asking “what’s new?” replace that conversational gambit with “what’s effective?” argues entrepreneur Seth Godin.

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