Are You An Expansionist, Broker, or Convener?

A Yale professor’s personality test shows your networking style

Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

In work and in life, relationships are everything. Most of us know this intuitively. What most people don’t know, however, is that each of us is sitting on a simple, straightforward way to strengthen all our relationships in ways that are beneficial not only to us, but also to the people with whom we’re connected, and to the people they’re connected to, as well. All it takes is a little self-knowledge.

As a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, my research on social dynamics has led me to identify three main types of networkers: the expansionist, the broker, and the convener. (When I say “networkers,” I’m talking about building social networks in the broadest sense of the term — this applies to professional relationships, but it applies to friendships, too.) Most people will find that they fall into one of these categories. Understanding which one applies to you can transform the way you approach your relationships.

Here are three simple tests to help you figure it out:

Expansionists

First, let’s estimate the size of your active network. Take a look at the following four statistically common names:

Alan

Adam

Rachel

Emily

How many people do you know with each one? For these purposes, let’s say you “know” someone if: (1) you recognize them by sight or name, (2) you could contact them without googling their email address or connecting through social media, and (3) you’ve been in contact with them by phone, snail mail, or face-to-face in the past two years. Don’t think too hard about this (it goes against the spirit of the exercise).

In a 2006 paper, researchers at Columbia and Princeton estimated that if you know one Adam, one Alan, one Rachel, and one Emily, the size of your network hovers around 900. Using this method with many more names, the researchers found that the average person had 610 people in their network. (As a point of reference, around 90% of the population have acquaintance networks somewhere between 250 and 1,700 people.) Most of us would expect to see at least one or two zeroes down that column of four names, so if you had a number greater than one next to a few of them, it’s likely you’re an expansionist.

Expansionists know everyone, and everyone knows them — but their popularity doesn’t necessarily translate to deep relationships. The pop singer Selena Gomez expressed a pitfall of this networking type when she once admitted: “I know everybody, but have no friends.” Expansionists benefit from boundary-setting, so that they can avoid spreading themselves too thin.

Conveners

Beyond network size, we really care about network structure. Drawing your network will allow you to start to assess whether you are more like a broker or a convener.

Thinking back over the last six months, who are the people you most often discussed important matters with — the things stressing you out, or personal goals you’re working toward — or received emotional support from? Come up with five names, then fill in the circles below (either mentally or with a pen, if you want to print this diagram).

Now we want to start to understand the relationships that exist among our confidants. Draw a line between any individuals in your network who are close. For instance, Nick has discussed important matters with Dave, Guy, Sean, Grace, and Sydney — Guy and Sydney work together, so that’s one line. Sean and Guy are old friends from high school who regularly get together for beers. Another line. If your contacts have simply met each other but don’t have any real relationship outside of you, don’t draw a line between them. To keep things simple, do not draw a line between yourself and everyone in your network.

Now count: How many lines exist in your network? The average person has five lines. If everyone has a close relationship with everyone else, there would be 10 total lines. The closer you are to 10, the more likely you are to be a convener. As a convener, you may not have the most sprawling network, but you’ve built a tight circle of trust. Like your fellow convener, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, your guarded nature belies an influential army of allies.

Broker

Now that we’ve considered expansion and convening, let’s take a look at brokerage using a scale developed by the management researcher David Obstfeld.

For each of the questions below, rank how you feel about the statement on a scale of one to seven, where one= strongly disagree, four = neither agree nor disagree, and seven = strongly agree.

Source: David Obstfeld, “Social Networks, the Tertius Iungens Orientation, and Involvement in Innovation.” Administrative Science Quarterly 50, no. 1 (March 2005): 100– 30.

People score around a 4.5 on average for the full six-question survey. If you’re seeing sixes and sevens, you may be a broker. This means that you adapt easily to different surroundings and peer groups. In a high school cafeteria, you’d be the type to float from the jocks’ table to the theater kids to the goths, no sweat. Like your fellow broker Barack Obama, your exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas gives you a leg up in understanding the bigger picture of the world around you.

If you are still not sure what type you are, that’s okay. As humans, we don’t always fit into a neat typology. We may act like a broker in some parts of our life and a convener in others.

And while understanding your current type is important, it’s arguably even more important to understand what might be gained from other types, as well as the styles of others around you. Our networks are constantly transforming as we advance in our professional lives, form families, and see our friendships shift, and each different network style has different strengths at different moments. If you can recognize which style the moment calls for, your relationships will deepen beyond measure.

From SOCIAL CHEMISTRY: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection by Marissa King, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Marissa King.

I am a professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. https://marissaking.com/

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