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How to Build Social Capital

One of the most important concepts we need to internalize as working professionals is the concept of social capital.

Basically, it’s the strength of your relationships with others, using the metaphor of a bank account with a dollar amount denoting the balance. You can increase the balance by via deposits by building / enhancing the relationship, or you can decrease the balance via withdrawals by depleting / destroying the relationship.

There are actually two accounts for every relationship; one account represents your social capital with the other person, and the other account represents that person’s social capital with you. They can be but are seldom equal, since different people usually invest in relationships differently – someone can think of you as their savior, while you consider them as regular acquaintances at the same time.

The name of the game is simple – increase your social capital with others by making regular deposits. How can we do this?

First – we need to ensure we have the right mindset. When we interact with others, we need to keep two things on top of our mind:

  • What does the person want or need?
  • How can I help?

Those two thoughts should come before “What I do want or need” and “how can this person help me”. Most people make the mistake of putting themselves first when considering relationships.

(Yes, it might not be possible to always put others first. We are not talking about always here. We are talking about what should be the default way of thinking.)

The reason this is important is because just like regular bank accounts, chances are you can only make small deposits. Just like you are unlikely to earn a large windfall, you are also unlikely to come across someone’s life changing event. That means you will want to make regular and frequent deposits.

So the second thing that you should do is to maintain regular contact with the person. The more frequent you keep contact, the more likely you will find out what and where they need help, so you can contribute to them.

Finally – keep in mind that just like money, social capital are rather easy to spend and even burn. You are building up the balance for the time you need to use them, so by all means, do so, but you want to make sure you use them prudently, and definitely not unintentionally.

Although this is a simple metaphor, many people don’t actually think about relationships and how to nurture them, so if you are able to implement this concept in your life, you will be ahead of others. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

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