5 ways to burn a connection

By Deanna Cioppa
The Brief
Nurturing your network takes work. Burning bridges is all too easy. Avoid these five bad behaviors and retain your connections.

Building a wide but effective network of connections is no small feat. But networking doesn’t stop with racking up a bunch of business cards. Real relationship capital is achieved by nurturing–or at the very least, maintaining–existing connections. More importantly, it means not burning your connections. Severing ties with someone, even if done unintentionally, can have major repercussions, which might take years to manifest. If you have any interest in preserving your network, never:

1. Over-promise and under-deliver: This might be one of the cardinal rules of client management, but it really goes for anyone in your network: Never commit to a deliverable and then fail to, well, deliver, either in the time designated or in the quality of execution. When a former colleague, client or vendor asks for a favor, your effort is rewarded even without ultimate success. If you take the time to advocate for this person strengthen that relationship, which could be of future help to you. Promising to provide help and then failing to at least try burns both of you. Bottom line: Know your limits. Only commit to what you know you can do.

2. Bash: This seems obvious enough but gossip and badmouthing always comes back to bite you in the end. Even if you no longer work for an organization, bashing of a former colleague will get back to him via one social network or another. You’ll not only lose the advantages of that connection, but also incur the disadvantage of his ill will when he ends up taking a job at your company. As your boss.

3. Be a taker: One sure way to encourage the wrath of your network is by constantly taking and rarely giving. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Wharton professor Adam Grant writes that while most people are “matchers”–that is, they give if they know their generosity will be matched, quid pro quo–takers always try to stay one step ahead, only giving when they know they can get more from the other person. And takers, Grant notes, are often identified and punished for their unfairness in some way by matchers (i.e., the rest of us). It doesn’t pay to be “that guy.”

4. Refuse to do a five-minute favor: In his book, Grant features tech entrepreneur Adam Rifkin, owner of one of the best networks, ever. Rifkin has made a life out of doing five-minute favors for both colleagues and strangers in Silicon Valley–from giving advice to making introductions and references–and it’s gotten him, well, happiness, first of all, but also a robust network of some of the highest influencers in the entire country. Refusing such an easy ask is a sure way to show that a) you’re a taker and b) you’re not worth dealing with.

5. Be ungrateful: We’re not suggesting fruit baskets for everyone who does you a five-minute favor, but a short thank-you is a no-brainer, and most of all, lets the person know that his efforts did help in some way. Failing to show gratitude is not only rude, it weakens your link to your connections by obscuring its value.

Deanna Cioppa is a freelance writer who has written for AARP, ESPN The Magazine and Fodor’s. She is a frequent contributor to this blog.
RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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