When is it okay to burn bridges?

When is it okay to burn bridges?

If even in your 30s you find yourself departing from professional relationships or workplaces in a manner that's characterised by volatility and friction, it can indeed be seen as a sign of immaturity

Somi DasUpdated: Monday, August 21, 2023, 07:17 PM IST
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Our journey toward our goals often involves skillfully navigating a complex web of relationships that can open doors for us. The distinct qualities and characteristics of individuals may not carry as much weight as much as the fact that each loose connection in our life is a portal to some kind of opportunity. In relationships driven by professional or skill-based transactions, it's wise to avoid completely closing the door on people, even when the quality of past interactions hasn't been optimal. Parting ways should be characterised by a blend of graciousness and optimism, acknowledging the potential for growth and change in an individual.

As people evolve and transform over time, the need for each other's support might arise again in the future. And people are all we have to save us, lift us and propel us in our life’s journey and our mission towards success and excellence.

The intrinsic moral character of an individual, whether good or bad, need not be a constant preoccupation for us. While your personal circle and spouse should align with your moral standards, the same stringent criteria need not apply to your boss, professional associates, or business collaborators. Imposing such rigid ethical judgments in a world often beyond our control could hinder our ability to function effectively. Moreover, allowing such moral considerations to dictate your decisions might disrupt your own professional and financial objectives, which cannot afford to waver based on daily interactions with authoritative figures.

By the time you reach your thirties, if you find yourself frequently walking away from professional relationships or workplaces in a manner marked by volatility and friction, it is indeed a sign of immaturity. Expecting perfection from the world or demanding that others adhere strictly to your ideals is a fallacy that is best avoided.

This brings us to the core question today’s column seeks to address: should we then never burn the proverbial bridge? When is it acceptable to terminate a professional relationship or to dissolve a problematic partnership in the most drastic manner? When is it suitable to firmly determine that it's the right moment to progress with a deliberate intent to communicate a significant lesson to a person in a position of authority? This action might involve making a bold statement that potentially eliminates the possibility of reconciliation and future exchange of favour between both parties.

Here’s a lowdown on when to say goodbye in the most explosive way. 

When dealing with abusive individuals: Abuse is just not sexual in nature. Abusive power dynamics can manifest differently. For instance, this could include spreading falsehoods about your character while avoiding confrontation with complaints lodged against you. Shifting blame onto others to create a general negative perception about you, originating from colleagues, is another manifestation. Conversations like ‘People have raised concerns about your behaviour for such and such reasons’ might arise. In an ideal situation, any complaint would be approached with impartiality, ensuring both parties are heard. However, abusive individuals often manipulate insignificant conflicts in the workspace to build a case against you and manipulate perceptions. They never truly resolve the issue. 

It's essential to be cautious of such authoritative figures. The best course of action is to expose their behaviour and distance yourself from them as they possess the power to harm vulnerable individuals. Also, be wary of individuals who resort to threats and intimidation, using statements like ‘I can ruin your career’. Such people create a hostile environment where you're likely to falter, only for them to step in, appearing lenient and kind. 

These individuals may also burden you with tasks outside your expertise or skill set. They will exhaust and fracture you to the point where you stop seeking any advancement in the company, setting ‘incident-free’ days as the lowest bar for your continued involvement in the office space. 

When dealing with self-centred individuals: If someone seeks to exploit your skills solely for their personal gain, even at the detriment of the organisation, and doesn't consider your growth or goals, it's appropriate to confront them and move on. Such individuals won't provide lasting value. It's more effective to confront them directly and expose their behaviour than to gradually disengage with the hope of future benefits. These individuals treat people as objects, using and discarding them—no potential benefit lies in maintaining such connections.

When someone attempts to control your personal life: Individuals attempting to dictate your interactions, expressing suspicion about your life beyond work, interfering with your relationships with colleagues, and thriving in conflicts should be approached cautiously. 

When no responsibility is acknowledged and blame is shifted: Individuals who never admit fault, even when they're fully aware of their mistakes, tend to have readily available scapegoats. They seldom say, ‘I made a mistake,’ instead preparing to blame others. It won't be long before they designate you as the scapegoat for their incompetence. When you sense this approaching, it's advisable to distance yourself promptly.

(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)

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