Your network stretches well beyond the people you keep in touch with, and that's okay. You naturally don't have time to keep in touch with everyone.
Nonetheless, the dormant relationships in your network are neither dead nor useless. They quietly exist there until it is time to activate them.
According to a study featured in the MIT Sloan Management Review, "reconnecting dormant ties, provides a whole host of benefits, many of them unexpected... Reconnecting with dormant relationships is more than just fun - it can be extremely useful".
So how do you activate dormant relationships? There's actually a right way of doing it.
Rebbeca Zucker, a leadership coach, who advises companies of the likes of Amazon and Dropbox, recommends a number of ways to get in touch with the contacts you haven't talked to in a while. We repurposed her recommendations into a four-step process.
Step 1: Be positive. Prior to getting in touch, make sure to get rid of any negative thoughts. You may be inclined to think that your message is unwanted. That may be boring them, or wasting their time. There's also a good chance that they may be actually happy to hear from you. The relationship may be dormant, but they may be following you and your work.
Step 2: Be sincere and build rapport. Address the elephant in the room. You haven't been in touch for some time. That's fine. If you are contacting them after so long, you are there to ask for something. They already know that too. Therefore, you can avoid the small talk and start working on your preposition. Establish some common ground first. Ask them about their kids, mention their favorite sports team, make them feel comfortable about having a conversation.
Step 3: Ask for something, in the right way. Don't be assertive, be understanding. After building rapport, go ahead and ask: "If you have the time, could you please help me out with this request?". This is certainly better from saying "I need this from you". If their response is negative, don't burn any bridges. Be the bigger person, and respect their decision. "If you can't help out I totally understand, and I hope we catch up soon". In this manner, you showcase that you are also interested in maintaining the relationship, not just achieving your goal. No matter how true this may be or not, it is always of benefit to keep the door open. They may revert with some help or offer you a synergistic solution in the future.
Step 4: Keep the relationship alive and be appreciative. Whatever the result may be, be sure to thank the other person, and reciprocate. The best networkers are givers. Make yourself available to them for any future assistance that may be needed, and offer follow up actions such as, "Let's catch up for coffee soon". It does not always have to be about work.