Sunday, March 18, 2012


When you’re running a business, whether it is a brick and mortar business or an online venture, you never know who your next benefactor or customer might be. For that simple reason, it’s a good idea never to burn bridges behind you. I think most of us realize this on some level. Yet it’s amazing how often it happens anyway.

This saying “Don’t burn your bridges behind you” has never been more fitting than in today’s highly connected business world.  Likely military in origin, the phrase probably is based on the strategy that once a bridge was burned, there was no way to turn back from a chosen path. In the marketplace, it’s basically the same principal.
Picture this: You’re at work and your boss makes a remark that sends your blood pressure sky high. Without thinking, you immediately go on the defensive either verbally or with an email, and you outline exactly what’s on your mind. Have you found yourself reacting like this?
Unexpected situations such as this can tempt you to tell people how you feel. One business manager found out how a previous employee felt through Facebook.  Creating an enemy who can end up hurting you in the future is not a wise move.
While it may feel good to let off some steam, how you respond to stressful situations can hurt you in the future, particularly if you stay in the same job or career field. Put simply, burning your bridges is bad for business relationships.
Burning your bridges is an even worse strategy than it was in past times because in today’s marketplace we are more connected and you never know when you will run into previous customers, colleagues or connections.  Many times job candidates hear about a company that has a position that they are really excited about, but then learn that a previous boss — with whom they had a rocky relationship — is working there.  This is not about being assertive or saving face when encountering a challenging situation. It’s all about the reaction and the damage it inflicts on relationships you need to keep in mind for future situations.
So how do you know when you are in danger of lighting an emotional fire that could burn a valuable bridge? If you’re in reaction mode, you’re in the danger zone.  Be aware of your reactions to people who push your buttons at work, and prepare for those reactions.  For example, one of the most effective techniques to stop a reaction is also the most simplest “Count to 10”.   A breath of fresh air also does wonders, so consider walking downstairs or taking a small break.  One of my favorites is to take a few minutes to do some deep yoga breathing.
The point is this: Before the email is sent, stop and think about the possible ramifications later on to your business and your career.
What if you already have had a bad day, and responded in a way you wish you could take back?  Bridges can be rebuilt, but you’ll have to swallow your ego and approach the situation with humility. You can’t take back the moment, however you can apologize for your reaction in hopes of repairing the relationship.  The same fervor and skill you used to write that angry email could be used to write an apology in the hope of mending fences.
Remember… You never know who might be in a position to benefit your business at some point in the future. Always treat people in a respectful fashion as if you were currently doing business with them. Don’t burn any bridges by insulting or antagonizing a contact without cause. Even with cause, consider the wisdom of such a move. It might just come back to haunt you.
This advice is relevant to online contacts as well as “real life” contacts. Don’t assume that snarky comments made online are anonymous. They’re not!
What would you do if you had a bridge-burning experience?  Would you leave it alone or try to mend it?

1 comment:

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