Bad Table Manners: 39 Ways to Kill Valuable Business Relationships

Bad Table Manners:  39 Ways to Kill Valuable Business Relationships

This post is part of the August Word Carnival. Read more great posts on the topic of Business Relationships by our other Carnie Bloggers. Then join us for the Twitter Party on September 1: #WordCarnival

No man is an island.  — John Donne

Flaming marshmallowYou’ve probably heard the Golden Rule of Sales: that folks only do business with those they know, like and trust. It’s true. The Better Business Bureau’s Standards of Trust are built on this maxim.

Luckily, most of my business relationships have been (and continue to be) good ones.

But every once in awhile, a colleague or a vendor does something off-kilter, and our relationship takes a wrong turn.

These people are smart, witty and usually provide highly valuable products or services. So why — after they’ve worked so hard to build a solid business relationship — would they screw it up?

Probably because they’re human. And all of us are guilty of slipping at least once or twice. (Yes, Even me!) The trick is to find the balance between making people feel warm and toasty or burning bridges.

In an effort to help curb bad behavior, and promote better business relationships, I’m sharing 39 ways that business professionals have broken my trust over the years.

What’s interesting about this list? They’re all communication-related actions. So, it’s not just the words you use, but how you use them!

Online Faux Pax

1. Hide who you are. This is especially true on your website. If you don’t want to talk about yourself even just a little, I may think you don’t want me to know who you are.

2. Send poorly written emails. Your grammar doesn’t need to be 100%, but if you refuse to take the time to capitalize (or, if you over-capitalize) it tells me you don’t want to take the time to communicate properly. That you don’t care. Here are some great tips for writing better emails.

3. Use a generic email account for business. If you can’t take 15 minutes to set up your email so it matches your website (or have someone else do it for you), you’re basically telling me that you’re an amateur. Or worse – that you haven’t made a real commitment to your business. If you can’t commit, why should I? Check with your domain registrar or web hosting service on how to do this.

4. Don’t reply to my emails or phone calls. Yes, I know you’re busy, but if you can’t give me a full response, just say so. Otherwise, I’ll think you just don’t want to continue our relationship. You should respond to every email and phone call within 24 to 48 hours. Or hire someone to help you. Period!

5. Add me to your email list without asking. Ever heard of SPAM? Just because you’ve got my email address doesn’t mean I want your newsletter. Or your sales pitches.

6. Leave your phone number and/or your mailing address off your website. Hmm. And why don’t you want people to connect with you? It’s okay if you don’t have a mailing address, as long as you’ve got at least a phone number. But if you only give me email as the way to communicate, I’m gonna get suspicious.

7. Don’t use a real name/photo. Yes, the internet can be a scary place. But if you don’t use your photo, or your name, how will we ever get to know each other? This is especially true on Twitter. If you want to work under a nom de plume, okay — but choose something other cutegirl360.


8. Don’t look me in the eye. I know in some cultures it’s offensive, but I need to connect with you. And your body language speaks volumes.

9. Don’t give me your full attention when we’re talking. Listening is huge. If you can’t give me your full attention, why should I give you mine? The worst is when I’m teaching and a student asks a question that was clearly answered just minutes before.

10.  Show up unannounced. Unless you’re my honey, or my BFF, you can’t expect me to just drop everything to help you. (And really, that would be pushing it even for them.) Call first. Let’s make a mutually-convenient appointment.

11. Stand me up. You ask me for an appointment and then you don’t show? And even worse, you don’t call? Really?

12. Be late for everything. And never call to let me know what’s up. It just means you feel your time is more important than mine.

13. Answer your cell phone when we’re meeting. Or even worse: when we’re at a restaurant! Need to brush up on your cell phone etiquette?

Online AND Off

14. Fail to take responsibility when you screw up. We all make mistakes, but when you don’t own up to yours, it makes you look immature and unprofessional.

15. Take credit for something you didn’t do. People know. Or they’ll find out. Think twice before you leave out important details — like who’s really responsible for that great thing that happened.

16. Reveal too much of your personal life. I don’t need to know all the sordid details of your personal life. Be willing to share a little. But be careful.*

17. Play favorites. Of course we have different levels and types of relationships. But if I see you treating a co-worker differently than you treat me, it’s gonna affect the way I ultimately treat you. The same goes for other types of business relationships.

18. Expect a discount because we’re friendly. If I gave a friends-and-family-discount to everyone I’m friends with, I’d have to file bankruptcy! Never assume you’re entitled.

19. Break a promise. Don’t tell me you can do something if you can’t do it. Yes, sometimes things happen. But if it happens twice, it’s a pattern with you, and believe me, I notice!

20. Be more concerned with how I can help you, than the other way around. I would love to help you with your project, cause, etc. IF it’s a good fit for me personally and professionally. But if you ask for my help multiple times without offering something in return, it makes me feel used.

21. Lie to me. I may not have a BS meter that’s 100% full-proof, but I can usually tell when I’m not getting the whole truth. Little white lies, too. Just be honest.

22. Beat around the bush. If you’ve got something to say, just say it. A direct answer says volumes about you and what you care about.

23. Talk about me behind my back. Unless you’re telling your friends how fabulous I am, come talk to me first. Complaining to others doesn’t usually get you anywhere. And probably means you’ve jumped to conclusions about something I’ve done, or haven’t done. Whatever it was, we can work it out.

24. Assume an air of superiority. My skills and experience might be different from yours, but we’re both human. And we both put our pants on the same way.

25. Only talk about your products and services. You might not want to talk about mine (um, why?) but if I don’t see you talking about other people’s stuff once in awhile, I’m gonna know really fast that you’re just showing up to show off you.

26. Try to push me to do something I don’t want to do. No means no. Simple as that.

27. Make me look foolish for referring you. When I make a referral, I’m putting my reputation on the line. If you screw up, you may have killed the trust I had built with that person.

28. Keep your network to yourself. We all know someone who should be introduced to someone in our network. When you’re stingy with your network, I wonder why.

29. Be unwilling to participate. In the conversation, the cause or the community. If you join a group, and you don’t participate, why are you there?

30. Complain about others. Nobody likes to hear bad news. But if you’ve always got something or someone to complain about (especially your customers or competitors), how do I know you won’t complain about me too?

31. Don’t walk the talk. I can’t tell you how many professionals I know who tell their clients to do something, but don’t do it themselves. Makes me question everything you say.

32. Be too nice or helpful. There’s a point where you cross over into schmoozeville. Be careful! Don’t get weird and stalkerish.

33. Don’t communicate your expectations. And then get mad if I don’t meet them. People who don’t communicate their opinions, desires and needs (EVER) make it really hard to work with them. Even more so if you get upset or — worse — act passive aggressive about something.

34. Be paranoid about our relationship. If you and I have  just met, I’ll be less likely to trust you if you start off not trusting me. I know I need to earn your trust. But I should also have to earn your distrust. Those who are overly paranoid make it difficult to feel safe about a relationship with them.

35. Be inconsistent in the way you treat me. When you act like my best friend one day and then blow me off the next, I notice. And if you’ve recently hit the big time and have decided you no longer have time for those of us who “knew you when” you’ll create hard feelings big-time.

36. Do everything yourself. If you’re the type of person who can’t or won’t hire the right team members (and then trust them to get the job done), then how will you have enough time for me? Do us all a favor and get yourself a virtual assistant.

37. Violate a confidence. If someone tells you something — unless they say otherwise — always assume it was meant for your ears only. And don’t tell me something about someone else just because you think you’re safe. If you do this often, I will stop talking to you about my own challenges.

38. Don’t pull your weight. If you sign up for a team effort, and then don’t give it all you’ve got, it’s nearly the same as taking credit for other peoples’ work. Ew.

39. Cut Corners. If I see you do that with someone else’s project, you’re probably going to do that with mine, too.

Remember, words are important. But it’s our actions and how we deliver those words that speak the truth about who we are. Some of these will be more or less hurtful to your relationships than others. But be cautious about slipping up more than once with a new relationship. It can kill things for you before you even get started.

For me, relationships are really all that matter. Yes, your bottom line is important. But without relationships, you won’t have a bottom line to worry about!

What do you think? Is there a 40th you could add to this list? Or do you disagree with any I’ve got here? Let me know in a comment below.

Or, maybe you want more? Here’s the link to the rest of this month’s posts on Business Relationships.


*It’s important to be safe online. Here’s a great site for making sure you take the right precautions.

  • Julia Hayes

    Hi Tea,  

    This is a comprehensive list which can serve as a check list for each of us in business and personal relationships.If I’m  meeting someone for the first time, the handshake tells me a lot – if it’s limp-wristed and there’s no eye contact I know i have a few hurdles to climb. Trouble is, this is judgemental on my part because as you mention, culture may instruct women to look down and hold their hand out very lightly. Yuk!What kills a business relationship for me is if the other person starts bothering me with sales calls for selling  pyramid-marketing-scheme products. We can hardly get away without being rude and then I will forever avoid that person.Julia

    • Tea Silvestre

      I totally agree, Julia. ANY type of selling which comes off as hard-core recruiting is horrible behavior. 

  • Ivana Taylor

    What a terrific and comprehensive list.  I’m printing it off and turning some of these around into goals for my interactions.  I’ve been reading a book recently that gave the advice that whatever you want out of the world, you have to put in there first.  Your list is a great start.

    • Tea Silvestre

      Thanks Ivana! I struggled with whether to write this from the positive (what I want) or the negative (what I don’t want) but it ultimately needed to come out the way it did. I am definitely going to be turning around into positive intentions for the future!

  • LaTersa Blakely

    This is a awesome post and i so enjoyed it. It was so onpoint in every way. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge

  • Anonymous

    Love this usual!  You really hit a pet peeve of mine when building or maintaining a business relationship is being responsive, that’s just like being present to me.  We have to be present in our daily businesses and respond to people as quickly as possible OR respond and say I will get back later with full details.  It demonstrates that you care, and the discussion is important vs. you are not worth my time.  Great list!

  • Annie Sisk

    Excellent work, Tea. I love this list. I’ve seen just about every single goof on this list. And I think in tough economic times, the number of chances we business owners get to make the right moves just zooms down to one.  Which means we cannot afford to make major goofs in the first place.

    • Tea Silvestre

      So true. Which is why it amazes me that this stuff still happens. In fact, I’m seeing more of it, not less…it’s a head-scratcher.

  • Sandy

    Amazing Tea, each point resonated.  Quite a benchmark for us too as well as our clients.  Overall, if you could give a tick to the greater percentage of these points in relation to a client, (or staff member, colleague or team member), it would indicate engagement at a very high level.  

    With such a clear line of communication it really would be almost inconceivable that a relationship could go pear shape.   Although they do.  Could it be that as humans we just cannot maintain such a high level of communication performance?

    • Tea Silvestre

      That’s a great question, Sandy! We should talk about this during our Twitter Party this afternoon. But I’ve been kind of been wondering the same thing. You know there’s that Dunbar limit of 150 ( that comes to mind. What do you think your limit is?

  • Nick Armstrong

    Great post, Tea!

    I’m constantly guilty of #12 – have been forever. I live in my own time-space continuum; it’s usually around 5 minutes late whenever I have to leave the house, increasing by 5 minutes for each meeting I have out in the real world.

    #15 – taking credit when you don’t deserve it is one of my biggest pet peeves. I had a co-worker who not only took credit, but also took responsibilities off my plate while I was momentarily re-tasked by management – and then botched the job, blaming me and indicating it was a bad idea. In reality, they just didn’t know how to execute it.

    This reminds me a lot of a post I wrote on the different kinds of Punks :-) Although, I only wrote about 5 — I suppose I missed 34 types! 😀

    • Tea Silvestre

      Yes – #15 is horrible troll-like behavior. You’d think that if they were going to try to take credit, they would at least have the brains to know they could pull it off. Hope you didn’t get in trouble!

  • Stella | Blog Content Ideas

    Wow, Tea, you really wrote an epic post here. This checklist is for keeps – one needs to keep it close for always keeping self in check:) I have come across a few online people who add others to their mailing list, from an email you sent to them or the emails in comment – without permission. That makes people not to trust the person. 
    Hmm, “Complain about others” – some do it in the form of “rant post” and forget that a blog is a public announcement – that person may be reading AND boom! – you’ll lose trust very fast.

    Thanks Tea – I love these tips. I have to read them again.

    • Tea Silvestre

      You’re welcome, Stella! Thanks for reading (and sharing)! 

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  • Laurie Nylund

    So glad you tweeted this today! Very comprehensive and well-thought out post that is also a great example of being true to your brand! I see no one was able to come up with #40. 😉

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