This is a good story related to me by a friend who used to be in management at a big box store. When she was advised by HR that she had to terminate an employee for absences, she wasn’t happy about the task at hand. The employee was a good worker, pleasant and respectful. The problem was, he missed too much work. At the termination meeting, my friend kept the conversation positive and the tone compassionate. The employee understood why he was being fired, and the relationship came to a peaceful conclusion.  No bridges were burned.

Now, to the good part. Fast forward three years to 2020. My friend is now a residential realtor, successful and hard-working. One day, she received a phone call from that former employee. He’s also achieved some success and was ready to purchase his first home. He had heard through the grapevine that my friend was now in the real estate business.  Remembering her prior kindness, he asked for her help.

More often than not, I connect the concept of burning bridges to employment, but it’s applicable to many other scenarios.  By way of example, let’s say your friend “Sara” is about to leave her husband.  You are nothing if not supportive, so you chime in with a litany of criticism about “Jeremy.”  He’s lazy, he’s disrespectful, he’s a redneck.  A few weeks later, guess what?  Sara calls to tell you that they’ve been seeing a marriage counselor and are on the way back to a healthy, loving relationship.  You’ve obviously burned that bridge because of the things you said to Sara about her husband.  

Sometimes, though, it might be a better idea to set fire to that bridge.  Let’s say you quit your job, and on the way out, you decided to tell your supervisor that he’s a sexist, racist, ageist pig, not only to you, but to everybody else in the company.  No doubt, that took a lot of courage.  Two months later, however, you are still not working.  What would it look like if you crawled back to your old job and begged forgiveness so that you could once again bring home a paycheck?  Would your contrition change the problematic culture of that workplace?  

On the other hand, what if you found a much better job?  And maybe your new employer has a few other openings.  Would it be okay to burn the same bridge once more in order to help a former co-worker to escape that negative workplace culture?  Would it be okay to invite her to interview with your new employer?

Clearly, burning a bridge isn’t always a bad idea.  If you’re tempted to travel backwards over the bridge you’ve already burned in order to support a friend, I say go ahead and light the match.

In the heat of the moment, it’s often difficult to weigh future consequences.  After some time has passed, though, things may seem a whole lot clearer.

Have you ever burned a bridge?  Regretted it?