Pondering Third Tier of Relationships

I was thinking this morning about the “third tier” of networking relationships; the classification area for people you encounter periodically or randomly only a few times a year.

I’m sure we are all clear that tier one is your social sphere consisting of your family, friends and significant others, and tier two is your professional space of coworkers, supervisors, subordinates, vendors and clients. Thus, the third domain covers all of the other miscellaneous people you interact with in a variety of “one-off” situations that come and go  throughout the course of the year that are often a quasi-hybrid of social/professional classification.

This certainly isn’t hard news and maybe I am overthinking this a bit, but this third tier appears to be the “C.A.N.” (Casual Acquaintances Network). These are those dozens, perhaps hundreds, of contacts you have made over the years through short-term projects, association meetings, fundraising functions or surface conversations at luncheons, seminars, special events and conferences. Let’s be honest with ourselves, if you have never really worked with this group of your network, you can’t truly vouch for their expertise and body of work nor refer new business to them. If they are part of your CAN and you only run into them a few times a year, could you really classify them as part of your social life? Doubtful, thus the bulk of these tier three individuals would inevitably fall into this ambiguous area where you don’t know their work persona nor are you fully comfortable with them for uninhibited socializing and hobnobbing.

If you are in the third tier for certain people, it’s no big deal and no hard feelings for either side of the equation. It’s a mutually-acknowledged understanding that we are all busy with our careers and lives and we can only have strong connections with a small cadre of people for the most part. Maybe you and I are third-tier counterparts and that could be fine. I always aim to be cordial, upbeat and unassuming when mingling or pushing past introductory small talk with others who I only come across on a couple of occasions. It isn’t always easy to break through to deeper contexts  if there is only a singular commonality – such as field or work or professional affiliation.

This all sounds like common sense and the way it is, but it seems sometimes it can be awkward or uneasy for people when they are approached by someone seeking a connection with one of your CANs, whether they run into you at a gathering or drop you a LinkedIn connection request. If it is a quick online maneuver to bring two parties together, that is a relatively painless and minor transaction that may have taken all of two minutes. If you made the effort, you have attained good “bridger” status and you can move on with peace of mind that you genuinely fulfilled a request.

However, what if you are put on the spot while sipping an after-hours beverage by a “prober” seeking access to the expertise or services of someone you might only know on a minimal CAN level, what is your most diplomatic response? Do you have a “healthy pause” before giving a forthright response along the lines of “I wish I could do that for you, but I really don’t see him or her very often.” or “I’d love to help, but you are better off contacting that person directly.” That may be a tough call in some instances of the prober is more of a number two tier to you and they look like you are letting them town or rebuking their request.

Though it all sounds like a bunch of soft social science mechanics that require basic interpersonal ommunications skills, maybe managing your network and your CANs’ priorities and expectations requires some delicate engineering at times.

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