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A Past Connection to a Rival Can Hurt Rather Than Help


When hiring lawyers or other professionals, it may seem advantageous to choose someone who has a history with your competitors because of the inside knowledge they bring.

That strategy can backfire, according to new research by Michigan Ross Professors Jose Uribe and Maxim Sytch, along with Yong H. Kim of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In a new article in Harvard Business Review, and an upcoming journal article in Administrative Science Quarterly, the researchers detail how such past connections can turn negative.

“We found that to restore the perception of uncompromising loyalty to their current role, professionals often become contentious and aggressive toward former collaborators. Thus, they can demonstrate their loyalty to current stakeholders by being combative negotiators, belligerent interviewers, or hostile advisors. The problem is, such behaviors can hurt the same stakeholders they’re trying to win over,” the researchers wrote.

“We dub this the ‘liability of past collaboration.’ Instead of promoting faster and smoother dispute resolution, past collaboration can systematically increase conflict and destroy value,” they conclude.

Although they focused largely on lawyers, the researchers say the phenomenon extends to other types of professionals as well. The HBR article concludes with strategies managers can use to avoid the pitfalls of past collaboration.

Jose Uribe is an assistant professor of management and organizations, and Maxim Sytch is an associate professor of management and organizations, at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.


Media Contact: Bridget Vis, Public Relations Specialist, visb@umich.edu

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