When you burn bridges with a colleague or customer, you effectively end the business relationship with that person forever. The metaphor of "burning bridges" is a somewhat violent one with a sense of finality to it, and it is an effective one. As tempting as it may be to cut certain people out of your life professionally, it is generally a bad idea for many reasons.
Employees and Colleagues
If you stay in the same field and in the same city, you are likely to run into or hear from former employees and colleagues even after you leave the firm where you worked together. Don't do anything that could make one of those people want to sabotage you in a future position. When you leave a company, make sure you do so with dignity and grace, even if the job you're leaving was the most painful one imaginable. Leave on the best possible terms with everyone there, as you never known when you'll see them again. In many industries, you are likely to work with those same people again in some capacity, so don't burn bridges behind you.
In a highly fluid marketplace, today's competitor is tomorrow's team leader. Go out of your way to cultivate good relationships with your competitors, knowing that tomorrow you could be seeking a job at a company you once viewed as a rival. Think about your position with your own company as if you were a professional athlete who could be traded at any time and would have to play with enthusiasm for a team you once battled on the playing field. Do not confuse rivalry with enmity; remind yourself when dealing with competitors that it is indeed "only business," and keep your business relationships open and professional. Burning bridges in relationships with competitors can hurt you in later job searches.
While customer loyalty is valuable, it doesn't always last. When a customer or client leaves, don't burn bridges. If you can't win the customer back, let go gracefully. In a world in which customer feedback is available to one and all on the Internet and customer complaints can circle the globe in a day, maintaining cordial relationships with former customers is vital to building your reputation and your business. Don't get into conflicts with customers, and give them every reason to say good things about you, even if they choose to take their business elsewhere.
Most businesses function in a surprisingly small world of interconnected contacts and networks. Your business rival today could be your boss tomorrow. Given the tight networks within which most businesses operate, burning bridges when you lose a customer, leave a job or lose a bid is simply foolish. Instead, rise above your frustrations to remain professional and cordial at all times.
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