A colleague of mine says, "Don't ever burn a bridge -- but if you do, be sure to torch it, because you won't ever be able to rebuild it." That advice, though cynical in some ways, is actually quite valuable.
Your relationships in this business are what make you successful, just as much as your brain. They are the bridges to your future success! You may not think about it day in and day out, but the interactions you have with other people create a holistic picture of you in the marketplace -- and this perception is important. Think of it as your "permanent record." Remember, the one your high school guidance counselor used to scare you with? This is the closest you get to actually having one -- and it's wide open for everyone to read.
Your interactions with people, whether they be clients, salespeople, or even the receptionist at your last meeting, are all a reflection of you. Some of these people are one-off interactions, but many of these people are going to be intertwined in your career for years to come. Salespeople routinely recommend candidates for open positions. Clients move to new companies and create business development opportunities for you and your business. You could even end up marrying someone who may have emerged out of that environment! I did, and I definitely count myself lucky.
What you tend to forget, though, is that all of those people also interact with one another, not just you! They all talk, and share stories, and if you're a difficult person, or passive-aggressive in your interactions with them, or even just plain mean to people, that will come back to haunt you. On the reverse side, if you treat people fairly, are open and honest and treat all of your relationships with personal integrity, then you'll see the same in return. Human beings are engineered to react to their world around them, and if you treat people in a positive fashion they tend to treat you the same.
Open honesty and integrity are key to business relationships. If you make decisions that are counter to an established practice, or change an existing relationship, you owe it to the other person to be honest and discuss the changes to their face. Too often people default to email as a means of conveying bad news. Even more often, they let the news come out on its own, in the form of status reports or third-party conversation, and try to deal with it after the fact. Bad news is never looked forward to, but if you have to deliver bad news you should always do it in person, if possible. When you don't deliver bad news in an open, honest forum then the reflection on the other end is that you don't value the relationship in the first place. When one side is not committed, the other side is less interested in engaging, and the relationship starts to falter.
Salespeople are on the receiving end of these situations too often, and so are agencies. These kinds of relationships are easy to neglect because the perception is they're based on money and fees. The fact, is they are based on human interaction, and those are far more valuable than any amount of money, so be sure to treat them as such.
Next time you decide to make a change in staffing, give your partners a call. Next time you decide to go in a different direction for a project, give your partners a call. How you deal with bad news shows more of your personal strength of character than how you deal with good news.
If you default to this advice, all your bridges will remain standing. There may not always be traffic going across those bridges -- but you never know when you might need to head in that direction.