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Rekindle Business Relationships

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You may never have heard the expression, ‘dormant ties.’  I know that when I attended a session on building meaningful relationships recently, I had no idea what it meant. But an internet search turned up an interesting study on the topic that is worth sharing.

What are dormant ties?     

Now that Facebook and other social media sites are making it so simple to find old friends and reignite contacts, it just makes sense that technology would impact professional as well as personal interactions.

While old friends are finding each other on line, so too are business relationships being rekindled. The rule of thumb today is that everyone is rushed, over worked and too busy to be able to do justice to all their connections. As a result, many fall by the wayside, neglected and irrelevant. However, those dormant ties are proving to be valuable assets.

How do dormant ties add value years later?

In a study of 224 executives from four executive MBA classes (three in the US and one in Canada) , researchers Daniel Levin, Jorge Walter and J. Keith Murnighan asked the participants to reconnect with two people who they had not seen or talked to for at least three years but who they thought would be someone they could trust for advice.  They were directed to ask for help on a major, ongoing work project that would have a significant influence on their career.

 Measuring for novelty of the advice given, trust and shared perspective, the team found that when the executives reconnected, the ideas and suggestions from the old ties beat out ideas from their current contacts.

Why do dormant ties generate more benefits?

Although we all meet thousands of people in our lifetime, we don’t have the ability to maintain more than a few hundred consistently. But those lost ties that have faded away for a variety of reasons (moving, switching jobs, life style changes, etc.) can continue to add value when tapped into.  Years later, reaching out to ask for help from someone you once connected to have fresh, objective perspectives that prove to be more helpful than ideas from those who are too close to see a new approach. Measuring for novelty was key to this project – and that is where the dormant ties played an important role. By reconnecting, the MBA execs had the opportunity to gain insights into a wealth of knowledge that was not otherwise available to them with their existing contacts.    

Why are dormant ties less work as well?

Because there is an existing trusted relationship to begin with, renewing old ties is not as difficult as starting a new relationship. It is a much more efficient process. There are already feelings established that quickly return once the connection is made. There is a level of comfort and confidence when working with someone from the past who understands and shares your perspectives.  This proved to be true for the executives making the reconnections.

Did the executives stay connected to their dormant ties?

Although the advice was novel, trusted and extremely valuable, most of the connections did not last past the study. After about one year the relationship returned to its disconnected state. This didn’t seem to change the value of the advice nor the benefits of reconnecting. There are clear benefits gained from breathing new life into dormant ties but it is also important to continue building current relationships. Everyone needs to have both types of relationships and both are worthwhile efforts, for different reasons.

Conclusion

This study was fascinating in its discovery of the power of old relationships and the power they have across the years. It is entitled, “The Power of Reconnection – How Dormant Ties Can Surprise You” and it was published in MIT Sloan Management Review on March 23, 2011.    

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