Have you ever heard the saying about the six degrees of separation? It’s a commonly used phrase to describe how closely connected we all are.

There’s a frequently referenced theory that suggests every person in the world can be connected to another person through a chain of no more than five people. And while I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to prove this theory wrong, I’ve found that the degrees of separation is usually a lot less than five, especially in New Hampshire.

I recently met a customer for the first time, and we were talking about our backgrounds and where we were from. As we started talking, she shared that she was in the Navy. I told her that my brother was a career Navy officer and talked about the various roles he had. The more I got into the story, we realized that they were part of the same school in the Navy. She was an instructor, and my brother was a student. I was blown away and couldn’t believe the random connection. But this is one simple example that shows how small the world really is.

In sales and business, leveraging the small degrees of separation can be extremely valuable. One of the best tools available to help determine how closely connected you are to someone is LinkedIn. You can easily search for someone and immediately see how many degrees of separation you have with someone. This is of course a very effective prospecting tool, as introductions can be a lot warmer when it’s someone you know connecting you with someone they know.

As I was writing this, I decided to see just how accurate the six degrees of separation is. As it turns out, Bill Gates and I are only separated by three people. I wonder if he’d return my call? How about Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart? Same thing. Only three people stand between an introduction to Doug. You get the point. The degrees of separation that exist is usually a lot less than six.

In our great state, it’s safe to assume you’ll quickly learn that you’re indirectly connected to a lot of people that may surprise you. I’ve found that the majority of people don’t leverage their connections fully and miss out on a lot of major opportunities. You obviously want to be selective about whom you reach out to for help with an introduction, but done tactfully, this can be an extremely effective sales and networking tool.

And while there are a lot of benefits associated with this often overlooked reality, there are some drawbacks to the close connections we all have. Here are a few to consider.

Bad experiences with people

The longer you work in business, the more people you interact with. And that means that there are likely people who you have had not so great experiences with. Perhaps you had a major personality clash that resulted in conflict. There are likely people you haven’t agreed with and never saw eye to eye. And how about the people in roles where you’ve had to make tough calls and let people go? There’s a good chance those people won’t have a high opinion of you if ever asked by others.

Burned bridges

Over the years, I’ve seen countless people purposely burn bridges and ruin their name and reputation when leaving an organization. Some were fired for inappropriate behavior. Some people did things that were borderline illegal.

And like the company I used to work for that fired a woman who was home on maternity leave with her 3-week-old newborn, people within companies do horrible and appalling things that shock even the most tenured professionals.

In every case, these situations will cause people to always have a negative perception of the individuals who were involved.

Referrals

Most sophisticated companies do reference checks on people they are considering hiring. And the smart ones don’t call the people you gave as references. Instead, they call people that have worked with you and they dig. And guess what? If you’re one of the people who has burned a bridge, treated people unfairly or have been completely unreasonable, there’s a good chance you’ll be in trouble.

It still baffles me how some people who have done such horrible things end up landing a new job. I guess sometimes karma takes time to kick in. Either way, it’s a lesson and a reminder to all of us to always do the right thing and consider your reputation before taking action.

Always remember, the six degrees of separation theory is not applicable in New Hampshire. You’ll figure out quickly, that in our great state, it’s usually only one degree of separation. And there are pros and cons to that. Consider them all!

Christopher Thompson (christhompsnh@gmail.com) writes Closing the Deal weekly.