This past week two friends approached me to chat about their issues. For one person, it was about a personal relationship. For the other, it was about his career.
I tried to be useful to both my friends, and helped them think about suitable plans that may aid in resolving their respective problems.
It occurred to me that at no point did either of them think of severing ties, and walking away from their problem. Of course, I am glad that they both were able to work through their feelings.
But, it did make me think about whether it is ever appropriate to burn bridges with a friend, a colleague, a business associate, a spouse, a family member, a job, or even an enterprise?
I know that there are circumstances when you will consider walking away. But when should you consider burning all bridges?
The easiest bridge for me to burn has always been with dishonest and disloyal friends, staff, colleagues, employers, business partners, and clients. If I do not believe that someone will behave with integrity, I know that it’s best to stay away from them.
Next, I often ask myself if my job or the people around me bring me happiness.
I function best, when I am happy. And because of the time I spend at work, and as a consequence, with a certain group of people, I feel it is necessary for these interactions to bring me joy and happiness, on a regular basis. If my job or the people I work with only bring me unhappiness, I know it’s time to move on. I also use this benchmark for my clients, and my businesses.
The value that someone brings to you is the next test for whether you should set fire to that bridge.
I always remind myself to add value to others. I consider this a key component to becoming personally valuable. So, ask yourself if your job or a person brings you real lasting value. In addition to bringing happiness, your work and the people around you should add value to your life. Do they support you and offer you advice, or are they just there without contributing anything to you?
If they don’t bring you any value, it’s time to walk.
On my list, the following thing is to recognise toxic people, jobs, and clients.
Are the people in your workplace or the person you are unhappy with, always negative? Do they judge people and situations to suit their needs? Do they paint themselves as the victim, all the time?
I have a personal principle that has been particularly useful over the years. I ditch people, jobs, and even clients who make me feel more negative than positive. Negativity is something I have no space for in my life. I recommend that you never open your door to this.
The next measuring yardstick is your personal values. Your values drive your actions and steer your path.
I notice that I can walk away from people when the values they exhibit are incongruous to my own values. I recently decided that I could no longer be friends with someone that I had been close with, because his attitude about fidelity to his spouse was so far removed from what I believe in.
I knew that I did not have to agree with his lifestyle choices. But, when I discovered that the way he choose to live his life, disturbed me at a very visceral level, instead of trying to convince him otherwise, it was more prudent for me to step away.
The next gauge is whether your job, boss or friend energises you or just drains you?
From experience, I know that the work that you do, and the people that you interact with must be empowering. If you constantly feel drained when you’re around someone, or if every meeting with your line-leader makes you feel that you’ve gone fifteen rounds in a boxing ring, then it is a sure sign that it is time to ditch them.
Finally, ask yourself if self-respect is an important part of your consciousness?
Some years ago, I had a client who contributed quite significantly to the bottom-line in my consultancy. But after being repeatedly disrespected by their managing director, I realised that my own morale was taking a battering. Disrespect comes in many guises. This client was never rude or overtly nasty. He just expected me to be available for him at all hours, and never acknowledged my worth by always slashing my bills by 20-30%.
Much to the detriment of the finances of my company, I mustered up the courage to walk away from him. I knew I had to, because I didn’t deserve the disrespect. And, I made a decision at this juncture, that anyone who doesn’t value me, no longer has a place in my life.
Experience tells me that the adage to "never burn bridges", by and large is sound advice. However, remember the exceptions to this rule.
For your own sake, some bridges need to be burned down.
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”