3 Things Your Relationship Style Reveals About You

Your social life helps determine your relationships, career, and opinions.

Posted Mar 02, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

Key Points:

  • People's social styles tend to fall into one of three groups—Expansionists, Conveners, and Brokers—each of which has strengths and weaknesses.
  • Expansionists, who tend to have large social groups, may be able to wield greater influence; Conveners, on the other hand, may gain greater well-being by having fewer but deeper connections.
  • While no type is better than the other, understanding where you best fit can help you maximize your connections and avoid common social pitfalls like loneliness or superficiality.

Your social life helps determine the person you’ll marry, your future job, and how you'll think. That’s what a new book by Yale Professor Marissa King, Social Chemistry, reveals.

This year you’ve probably missed your friends, community, and social circles more than ever. You’ve interacted with them as much and as safely as possible given restrictions. After all, research shows us that social connection is one of our greatest needs after food and shelter. And how we socialize, it turns out, determines most of the major outcomes of our lives.

The people we know and befriend, explains King, who is a foremost expert on social networks, has a lot more to do with our socializing style than anything else. People tend to fall into one of three categories. You’re either a Convener, an Expansionist, or a Broker. 

1. If you’re an Expansionist, you’ll have a plethora of connections that tend to be more superficial. In other words, you know a lot of people, but not very well. If you’re an expansionist, you might be drawn to spending the majority of your time engaging with new communities and social groups. You have no problem going to social events or parties where you don’t know anyone—you love the opportunity to meet new people. You may work hard to gain new followers on social media. You’ll be attracted to apps like Clubhouse that allow you to develop a wide (albeit superficial) network.

Here's your strength: As an expansionist, you can exert great influence because of your large network. Take an influencer like Vani Hari (aka. The Foodbabe) who, thanks to her large following, has successfully pressured fast food companies to adopt healthier ingredients. As an expansionist, you’ll have a wide list of contacts that could help you professionally. You may marry someone from a very different community (or even country) than the one you were born in. And you get exposed to many different perspectives on life, which could make you a broad thinker.

Here's what to watch out for: Although you know a lot of people, you may also find that these relationships tend to be shallow and ties are easily made and broken. You may want to learn to invest in a few close and deep relationships that are loyal, supportive, and can help see you through hard times.

2. If you’re a Convener, your life looks pretty different. You tend to have strong and deep roots within a narrower social circle. Your ties tend to be strong, true, and authentic. You might, for example, belong to a tight-knit community (e.g. spiritual, professional, artistic, cultural, etc). In this group, you share a similar interest or perspective with other members of the community.

Interestingly, as a convener, a strong benefit you have is that you tend to suffer least from loneliness. You likely receive strong support from other members. You’ll probably marry someone within the community you were born into (or that you spend the most time in as an adult). The community will also likely play a role in the job offers you receive. It’s likely that your political affiliations and perspectives on the world are tightly aligned with your community. There’s lots of trust and resilience in these kinds of tight convener networks.

Here's what to watch out for: there may be little diversity of thought in your community and therefore fewer new ideas. You could run into the problem of echo chambers. You would benefit from going out of your way to expose yourself to other perspectives that could help shape your thinking (check out Adam Grant’s new book Think Again for that).

3. If you are a Broker, you have ties with many different social groups. While you have some deeper relationships, your strength comes from the fact that you have lots of weaker ties to many different social groups. You have a wide network (not as wide as expansionists but fairly wide), as long as you maintain those weak ties. You can bring together very diverse people and make useful connections. You may, for example, belong to a religious community that enjoys community service and also an environmental activism group. By introducing service-oriented church members to sustainability projects, you introduce two communities who might not otherwise have met and you help both causes. You may be the person who plays match-maker or who helps people find jobs. You may be a thought leader, writer, or artist who can bring together various perspectives and create innovative products.

You may marry someone from any of the communities you network with. Similarly, your job prospects are widened by the different social groups you belong to. And your thinking will be broadened by the perspectives you hear in your different networks. As a broker, you have an unparalleled ability to help open people’s minds to diverse perspectives. Like expansionists, you’ll want to be careful to ensure that you also maintain a few deeper relationships.

If you don’t recognize yourself in any of these styles, King has a helpful tool online that can help you do so. She even has an app in beta. Keep in mind that you may also be a combination of several styles.

Understanding your socializing style can help you figure out how you know people—but it can also help you break out of that style if you want to expand your horizons, develop deeper relationships or step out of your comfort zone and diversify your perspectives. If you’re a convener, for example, you might push yourself to enter completely novel social circles outside of your usual interest (try starting with one at a time), for example joining a Capoeira practice group, an improv class, or a meditation group.

King concludes that our world needs all three types of connectors. While conveners’ tight networks can provide security and information, brokers help bring in new ideas and foster creativity while expansionists can mobilize large groups and provide inspiration. “They all contribute to a brilliant, vibrant human order.”

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