When it comes to networking and building relationships, especially in a professional context, a lot of your success depends on being able to build connections to people of higher status than you in an industry, company, or community.
(It’s worth taking a second here to exclaim how much I hate using the term “higher status” since I deeply believe everyone’s worth comes from them being a human being, and status, power, money, etc don’t change that inherent worth.)
But there are situations where someone else has access to power, resources, or opportunity and you want to build a relationship with them to further your goals or your career. Ideally, relationships ought to be mutually beneficial and connecting to higher status people makes that more difficult because its unclear exactly what you bring to the relationship. And this is where the key to building mutually beneficial connections to people of unequal status depends on a fancy, academic sounding word you may only see on a standardized test:
Multiplexity is an idea in network science that are different contexts for connections. Some people are only connected because of one reason. Those connections are called uniplex ties. Others are connected because of multiple reasons. Those connections are called multiplex ties.
Those people with multiple contexts for connection—with multiplex ties—tend to build a deeper relationship faster with someone, and they also give people reasons to stay connected.
But for our purposes—for finding a mutually beneficial relationship in a power imbalance scenario—multiplexity gives you more contexts in which you can find something beneficial to contribute.
If you really get to know that person you aspire to connect with, then you’ll probably learn something (or multiple things) to connect with them on where the power balance is a little bit more equal. And if it’s a little more equal, then it will be much easier to connect in that context. Even better, you may find a scenario where you’re actually the higher status person or at least have something valuable to contribute that the other doesn’t have.
For example (and because I realize this is kind of all complicated and throwing out big words like multiplexity doesn’t help), a number of years ago I was looking to build a relationship with a friend of a friendwho was an absolute genius at book marketing. He’s a good guy and, like most people, would want to help me if he could, but like most geniuses at anything, time was limited. So relying on just being the beneficiary of his goodwill wasn’t going to work; he was already over-spending his goodwill.
I wanted to be friends authentically with him, but let’s be honest, building a relationship with him would also help me as I was preparing to launch several books.
However, I eventually learned that he was really developing an interest in the sport and the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I’ve been studying for more than a decade. There was a lot that I could teach him. So, we developed a relationship sort-of-in parallel. He would talk to me about concepts from book marketing. I would talk to him about concepts from Jiu-Jitsu. He would look at my marketing copy or content and give feedback. I would look at matches of him competing in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, give him feedback. We had a mutually beneficial relationship not by being equals in the same space, but because we had this multiplex tie. We were able to create value for each other, but in two different domains.
That is why multiplexity is the key to building connections to higher status people. You can provide value to that person that can get reciprocated into value for you. You just have to do it in two different domains. But, it only works if you start looking at the totality of that person and find a different context in which to connect where things were a little bit equal or maybe even unequal but in your favor, and you can provide value to them that over time gets reciprocated.
Multiplexity is where you’re going to build a deeper relationship faster. But it’s also where you’re more likely to build a reciprocal relationship generating value for each other over time.