Making Connections

I really don’t know where I picked up the habit of helping others connect, but I’ve been doing it since at least the early ’90s. A lady friend was at odds about what to do with her career, so I suggested (since she had done schooling overseas) that she look into working at what as then called EuroDisney, now Disneyland Paris. In other circumstances I’ve introduced friends to new lines of work or to books that might help them in their current task.

Malcolm Gladwell describes such behavior in The Tipping Point as being a “connector.” That great font of wisdom, Wikipedia, summarizes Gladwell’s take on connectors thusly:

Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together”.

That sums it up nicely. I’m an idea guy, so my way of putting people in touch with each other is mostly idea-related. When I get to know someone, I’m usually interested in what a person’s philosophical priorities are: work (what type), family, religion, politics, hobbies, etc. This is the mental equivalent of “tagging.” When another person or book or TV show or other item appears that includes those tags, I am prompted to put two and two together so that the individual or individuals have the opportunity to expand on their interests.

Being a connector is useful skill to have as a technical communicator. If you know what types of things other people know, you can leverage that network when you have a question about certain topics. Or, conversely, if you find something of interest to someone who has particular interests, you can connect them with something or someone of interest to them later. I’ve read books that I thought would be of interest to a friend or acquaintance, and I’ll point them to that book. Yesterday I put two people in touch based on their mutual interest Republican politics in the Chicago area. Notice that the connection had at least two components to it: location, interests, and philosophy. Alternatively, another friend is facing impending unemployment. Knowing her skills and interests, I poked around through my network and found a couple of jobs that might work for her.

I don’t always expect these “connection” experiences to pan out. (Note that I’m a professional matchmaker, not a personal one.) My job is to arrange the meeting and let things take their natural course from there. However, I make the effort anyway.

Regardless of the ultimate success of my efforts to connect people, this approach is a good way for an introvert to build their network. If going to a room full of suits with business cards isn’t your idea of a good time–and for me it usually is not–“connecting” people when you’ve got a chance to speak with them one on one is a great alternative.

The primary abilities or skills you need to do this well are a good memory (or note-taking system) and a willingness to reach out and help others. Often there’s zero gain for me in these situations: “Oh, no, I’m not that type of writer. However, you should contact my friend So-and-so. She’s a genius at that.” or “You should talk to Whatshisname in Huntsville. He’s doing the same thing you are on a different scale.” The goal is to help the other person expand their knowledge or enjoyment of a particular experience or idea. Or maybe I just like helping my friends. In any case, being a Connector is one of those ways a technical communicator can add value to an organization or a community: not by any work we do, but simply by helping others do their work better.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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