Symposium preview: Weak ties with Theresa Bailey

By Ramona McVicker

Social and professional connections offer unique resources and information that benefit disaster risk reduction. They can play a critical role in knowledge sharing to a more diverse population.

These connections can also facilitate community resilience: they can be leveraged to mobilize resources and support for those who are affected by, or respond to disasters. As well as building bridges between different groups, they can help to promote social cohesion and reduce the risk of conflict during disasters while increasing access to critical resources that can be of great assistance on a moment’s notice.

For these reasons and more we are so pleased to have Theresa Bailey as one of our facilitators at the Symposium in October. Theresa has explored what makes people thrive for over two decades, and knows the answer – connection. Whether fostering community across settings defined by work or geography, Theresa teaches organizations how to authentically connect, leading to improved quality of life, productivity, and a sense of meaning and purpose.

In this session, we are going to explore how weak ties are so important to our field. It’s safe to say that many of us have benefited from connections through our work that can be a resource in any so many environments. Think about people you’ve only met once or twice, but trust as a resource, sounding board and more. The Symposium is a great place to build and reconnect with people you can count on when needed. Join us as we not only build on existing connections, but also create new synergies that we will be grateful for down the road.

As a glimpse into what we this discussion will hold, we are sharing a few words from Theresa, on why connection matters.

Connection matters

By Theresa Bailey

We are wired to connect.

It’s a simple statement, but after years of pandemic social isolation, restrictions, and a new world-order of hybrid workplaces, we are still readjusting. This new world has left us with some improvements in how we do business, but also, reports of residual stress and anxiety after spending so much time unnaturally alone.

Through it all, what’s been confirmed is that in times of crisis and turmoil, the importance of community and connection cannot be overstated. Community provides a sense of belonging, support, and stability, while connection to others enhances our overall well-being and sense of purpose, decreasing anxiety. At the same time, our community and connections help us find the resources and answers that will get us out of crisis and turmoil. It’s been that way since the beginning of time, and when connection is taken away, there are dire consequences.

Why it matters

It was such dire consequences that led to the formation of the entire field of Community Psychology. Emerging in the 1960s, a crisis arose out of the rapid release of long-term in-patients from psychiatric hospitals into the community as these large and inhumane institutions were closed one-by-one.  There wasn’t a lot of discharge planning back then, or services to support anyone, and often patients knew no one in the areas they were released. It was quickly discovered that a key to quality of life and re-integration of former inpatients depended on their connection, and engagement with others. Without those connections, chaos often ensued.

To understand the importance and impact of connection and community we can consider our experience of social bonds. One well known study conducted by UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman set up research participants to feel socially excluded. Researchers realized social exclusion showed brain activity consistent with someone experiencing physical pain. Disconnection hurts. Social connections are as important for our physical health as our emotional well-being.

The benefits of social bonds are not limited to our most intimate relationships. By the 1970s sociologist Mark Granovetter had developed the weak ties theory exploring the importance of weak ties, or those relationships between individuals characterized by low intensity or frequency of interaction. Granovetter argued connections with people who are not in our immediate social circle, or weak ties, can be just as important as strong ties. And these are the relationships we especially turn to in times of change, upheaval, and crisis.

Why it matters for you

Consider how often and how many ways weak ties have impacted your own life. Often, weak ties provide access to information and resources that are not available through our closest connections. Perhaps there was a time when you were changing careers or moving to a different city. A weak tie with someone who worked in a different industry might have had knowledge or access to job opportunities in a new industry and made an introduction for you. Or a weak tie acquaintance in your new town might have come through with an insider tip about the best real estate agent or area to live.

Or most readers will have lived through some form of disaster. The first I remember was the ice storm of 1998. In that instance, weak ties were imperative in rural areas and the very thing that kept people, and livestock, alive. Those who were able to get out of their homes cleared trees and roads and were personally responsible for the survival of others who were cut off, housebound, or without water, or dealing with livestock who were freezing and starving. Neighbours with no former strong tie relationships rotated generators to keep pipes from freezing and delivered water. They did it for seniors, they did it for farmers, they did it for people they didn’t even know. This wasn’t just for days, it turned into weeks. Weak ties were the lifeline to those who needed help in times when they needed it.

Weak ties also provide access to new information and ideas, and in some cases can even impact social mobility. It’s fascinating to see this play out through social media platforms. Over the past few years, we craved connection, and we witnessed social platforms make it easier to connect with people outside of our immediate social circles. These weak-tie connections are having a massive impact, generating opportunity and connection.

The key to the future?

In the future, both formal and informal connections, strong and weak ties, will be important for preparing us for whatever is coming next. Many of us, though, have gotten comfortable with the routine of being alone, or on our own. It’s not necessarily what’s best for us, emotionally, and it certainly won’t be the thing that saves us moving into whatever change comes next.

So, we need to find ways to spark the connection we may still be missing and reconnect in new ways. This is not just networking, it’s more than that. Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” where he outlines three types of people that are imperative to ideas catching on and changing in the world. The Salesman, persuasive and charismatic, the Maven, who possesses extraordinary information and expertise, and, the Connector. The connectors know everyone, have a large social circle, and use it to help others.

The Connector doesn’t just network. This is networking with good will.

When it comes to well-being, satisfaction, and sometimes survival, the importance of weak ties cannot be overstated. Weak ties in our various communities provide a sense of belonging, support, and connection to others that can enhance our overall well-being. While strong ties are important for emotional support, weak ties provide access to new information and ideas that can lead to new opportunities and connections, and our survival. In an increasingly unpredictable world both strong and weak connections will be important for helping all of us thrive.