Build Bridges! Don’t Burn Bridges!

In your work life you will see colleagues come and go. I did. What really strikes attention, is that some colleagues get a nice farewell while others leave without notice. Why is that so? The answer to that question boils down to one of the networking fundamentals: Build Bridges! Don’t burn bridges!

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Isaac Newton

One of my colleagues, let’s call him Bob, left the company last year. Bob left the company to work on a startup with some of his friends. Everybody understood that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Before he left, he built bridges to other colleagues as well as to the management. He also stayed in touch with everybody!

Unfortunately the startup was not successful. But one thing Bob didn’t need to worry about was to find a new job. He asked for his old job and we were happy to follow his wish. Bob understood how important it is to build bridges and stay in touch.

Let’s assume Bob quit without a reason and walked out without saying goodbye. Or walking out and speaking out all the things he didn’t like. What if Bob had burned all bridges behind him? With the startup failing, he would also need to find a new job. Which itself isn’t easy. But Bob made it even harder for himself. If a potential new employer asks the old company about his performance, they will not give Bob a good reference.

We are all part of a relationship network. We all have a reputation. Burning bridges destroys your reputation. Everything is connected! What goes around, comes around!

How To Build Bridges

When you leave a project, company or group it is easy to build bridges. Prepare one or more channels to stay in touch with. An e-mail address is sufficient; social media is more personal.

  • Announce ahead of time your plans to leave

  • Talk with the dearest persons and make plans to meet after you leave. Exchange numbers with those persons!

  • Throw a (small) farewell party

  • The last day bring cake! (Very important) Say goodbye to everybody and thank them. Exchange e-mails or connect over social media

  • Stay in touch

When To Burn Bridges

Don’t burn bridges, if you don’t have to! Before you do it, be sure you can live with the consequences. There are just few situations, I can think of, when it is advisable to burn bridges.

  • If a person has a bad influence on you

  • If a person is abusive

In most cases there is another solution.

Leaving. Better Than Burning Bridges.

Leaving is similar to burning bridges but everybody keeps one’s face. Burning bridges is like a cut that creates a great distance. Leaving is a soft process that creates distance. You still do all the steps to build bridges. The difference is you don’t stay in touch. Instead, if the person tries to reach out, you give him an excuse why you can’t. Over the time the person will get the message but everybody keeps one’s face. If you need to/want to stay in a group, project, company but there is one person you don’t get along, leave! In that case find an excuse to get out of the proximity. Don’t escalate, it would look bad for both of you.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin

Recently I burned bridges with one of my longest friends. Over time we grew apart. Every time we met I felt bad afterwards. He made me sick. I decided to cut him out of my life. I stopped responding to his messages and calls. Since then I haven’t seen him.

I don’t regret cutting him out! But I regret how I did it. I burned bridges. Not only to him but also to some of our mutual friends. Other friends noticed the harsh cut and started to doubt our relationships. It was hard to explain, why I did it. I could have avoided all the consequences by leaving. I just needed to create distance with excuses. Lesson learned!

After school and college it gets harder to find and connect with new people. I big network and a great reputation make it easier. Therefore …

Build Bridges! Don’t Burn Bridges!

Deo volente,

Gaius Wolf



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