How many people have you known who have changed jobs, moved away, or otherwise gone in another direction? Have you considered reconnecting with them? Chances are you haven’t, given your hectic schedule and the obligations you already have to your current contacts.
People lose touch with each other for many reasons. When friends, work colleagues and even family members go different directions (geographically, occupationally and otherwise), those relationships are often put on hold and, eventually, all but forgotten. Relationships that are no longer maintained are referred to as “dormant ties.” They’re often considered “dead,” and we rarely reach out to them when we need business advice or networking support.
But researchers from Rutgers, George Washington University and Northwestern found recently that dormant relationships are much more valuable than one might think.
Their study, published in Organization Science, included 129 EMBA participants and follow-ups with 116 executives to compare the value of dormant ties to existing ties. They found that our dormant ties are actually deeply useful, and even the old connections we think are least valuable are worth pursuing.
Specifically, the researchers found dormant ties were often more “efficient” than current ones, sharing more knowledge in less time than current contacts. Reconnecting with dormant ties also provided greater novelty than consulting with current ties, and the trust between dormant contacts was often higher when both sides were motivated to cooperate and had a similar understanding of a problem.
What Makes Dormant Ties So Valuable?
When people go different directions, they have varied experiences and gain new knowledge, and these different experiences can provide new insights when two people reconnect.
Your current ties with customers, suppliers, friends and colleagues are a continual source of value for you, but it turns out they have diminishing returns. For instance, novel insights for your business, such as marketing ideas, potential new customers or operational innovations, have likely been all but exhausted from current ties.
While two colleagues who work together on a daily basis may struggle to solve a problem, rekindling a dormant connection may provide them the new perspective they need to identify an innovative solution.
What’s more, dormant ties are efficient, meaning both sides get more bang for their buck in terms of time spent reconnecting. Because these connections have known each other before — through business arrangements or friendship — there’s already a foundation of trust that two strangers don’t have. While cold contacts may take a while to warm up, there’s no obligation to spend a great deal of time in introductory conversation when we’re reconnecting with dormant contacts, and information can flow freely. This is because emotional closeness determines a tie’s strength more than frequency of communication.
The blend of novel insights from new perspectives and established trust from old connections packs dormant relationships with potential opportunities.
What Does This Mean For Management Practice?
Social networking websites have reduced the costs of searching for dormant contacts; they’re much easier to track down, and they’re a low-cost way to gain useful knowledge. Salespeople and managers of any functional area can benefit from novel and efficient information pertaining to myriad applications across the organization. Top executives, too, stand to benefit from divergent perspectives on how to navigate industry environments.
Dormant ties aren’t specific to individuals; they may also exist between firms, and reconnection may pave the way for future collaborations or strategic alliances.
Between individuals or organizations, and in personal networking or business strategy, the novel insights that come from rekindling former relationships can add spark and excitement to current projects and stimulate innovative thinking. And they’re also likely to add to everyone’s quality of life.
Bruce Walters, Ph.D. is the Edward L. Moyers Endowed Professor in the Department of Management at the College of Business at Louisiana Tech University. His teaching, research and consulting interests include corporate governance, acquisitions, strategic decision processes, top executive characteristics, and corporate social responsibility. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Gilley, Ph.D. holds the Bill Greehey Endowed Chair in the Department of Management at the Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s University. His teaching, research and consulting interests include corporate strategy, ethical leadership and strategic philanthropy. email@example.com.
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