We are all faced with a choice when business relationships come to an end - Are we going to build a bridge or burn a bridge? No matter how hard we try, our business relationships over the course of our careers will come to an end. It may be an employer terminating your services as an employee. It may be a client terminating your services as a business. Whatever the circumstance, we cannot avoid the inevitable end to business relationships in our careers. So what can we do? If you have been following this Mind Your Business series up to now, you already know that luck is never our strategy. If luck is never our strategy, we must plan for the future and decide today how we will handle ourselves when our business relationships come to an end.
When you must end the business relationship
If you must end the business relationship - separate the person from the behavior. This is one of the most important things that I have learned over the course of my life that has allowed me to end business relationships without burning the bridge. Your business relationships are going to come to an end. It is inevitable. All too often we take the easy route and use a business breakup to say some hurtful things and, by doing so, burn the bridge. We see this as an opportunity to say all the things we have wanted to say. The problem here is, saying these things will make us feel good in the moment, but will hurt both you and the other person in the long run. When you are explaining why a business relationship must come to an end, be sure to separate the person from the behavior.
I cannot continue to employ your actions
I cannot continue to employ you
You have continued to underperform
Your performance has not met the expectations necessary for employment
Can you see the difference here? It is a lot easier to build a bridge when you are ending a business relationship based on the behavior or the actions, not the person. These must be kept separate.
When someone else ends the business relationship
If you or your business gets fired - hold your tongue and build the bridge. There is nothing easy about getting fired. It hurts when someone fires you or fires your business, there is no way around it. This is when it is so tempting to fire back and try to even the score, but I must encourage you to stay strong and not to be the one to blow the bridge. You are going to want to say all the things that you have wanted to say during the course of the relationship, but don’t. If you are going to be a successful and influential person in your career, you must build the bridge. I cannot promise you that these bridges will be used in the future, but I can promise you that success will not come as easily if you are in the habit of burning bridges. Use this as an opportunity to get better. Listen to the feedback on why the relationship must end, and make changes. Sure it would be better to get feedback before a relationship ends, but that is not a reason to get lost in anger during the conversation and miss what could be invaluable feedback on how to be better in the future.
My challenge to you
There may be times in your life when you really do not see any value that could come from building a bridge at the end of a business relationship. If there is one piece of advice you take from this post, try to give the business relationship the benefit of the doubt. You can't know with certainty that a future relationship would not be valuable. Behavior changes. Businesses change. Needs change. Take the risk of building a bridge that you doubt any value could come from. I bet you will be surprised at how often you will end up using those old bridges to take your business and career to the next level.
Luck is not a strategy - be strategic and start building bridges.