The Importance of “Weak Ties” During a Pandemic

By: Kamron A. Sanders

The coronavirus pandemic has presented various challenges over the last year. For some, technology was injected into new aspects of their lives to maintain a sense of “normalcy.” The way we communicate and build relationships has been drastically impacted and we had to get creative. However, family and friends Zoom nights cannot go on forever. If you are feeling drained or lacking human interaction, you may be missing your weak ties.

In The Strength of Weak Ties, by Mark Granovetter, a sociology professor at Stanford University, categorizes “weak ties”  as the relationships outside of your close friends and family. In his paper, Granovetter suggests that the quantity of human interaction has a greater contribution to the wellbeing of an individual than the quality or strength of the relationship.

Who are your weak ties?

A barista or trainer at your gym, anyone you have a base-level relationship with. Unbeknownst to us, these interactions form a mental connection that contributes to the quality of our wellbeing and can make us feel happier.

In a study conducted by Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer at the University of Essex, she asked a group to record their interactions over the course of several days. Sandstrom found that those who reported higher weak tie or casual interactions felt a sense of overall happiness compared to those with fewer interactions.

Why? For some, it is easier to have these interactions because they hold less emotional weight than with a close friend or family member. Additionally, it is a way of being recognized. How great does it feel when the barista who makes hundreds of lattes per day knows your specific order? Or your instructor calling you out during a workout for improving? It all comes down to gratification; we need it from our inner and outer circles even if we will not admit it.

The pandemic has thrown a wrench in our weak tie interactions, but such interactions must be maintained. Sandstorm turns to social media as a substitute for weak tie interactions. It can be easier to start a conversation with people you do not know or join groups with similar interests online. Though not a replacement for in-person interaction, making these temporary connections online may satisfy the mental stimulation or sense of gratification you might be missing.

Practice this theory by engaging in conversations online and monitor if your demeanor shifts when a stranger or acquaintance “likes” or praises your thoughts.