On the whole, I’m not one to burn bridges. Not to say I haven’t, or that others haven’t stopped talking to me (deservedly or not). The point is, where I can, I try to keep my professional relationships going after I leave a workplace. There are a few reasons for this.
It’s a small world
I work in the human spaceflight business, which is a pretty small community. That also means the odds are often better than even that I will be working with someone again in the future. Getting angry? Backstabbing? Causing a ruckus? Being difficult to work with? None of these help make life easier if you have to work with certain individuals again. And all that goes back to reputation, which is built over the course of days, months, and years. Would you rather hear someone say, “Oh, good! I get to work with you again!” or “Let’s try to keep it civil this time?”
Friends are good to have
We spend a lot of time at work, sometimes more time than we spend with our families. Given the amount I have spent on the job, it just makes sense to try to be as agreeable and pleasant as I can manage. And really, wouldn’t you rather spend the day with friends than people who irritate you?
You just never know
I’ve had multiple contacts from my professional life circle back and ask me if I would like to work with them again. This is not a primary reason for keeping channels open, or even a secondary reason. Still, I mention it because after 20+ years as a corporate guy, I’ve now spent nearly three years as a freelancer, and my network has been critical to finding work. In fact, most gratifyingly, they have sought me out. And yes, on those occasions where work has been a little slim, I’ve gone back and looked up previous peers and managers to see if they knew anyone looking for work that a technical writer can do, which is a little different from asking them directly for a job. Less pain and embarrassment on their part if the answer is no. And if the answer is no and they can’t refer me to someone, they at least know I’m looking, right?
When the bridge burns anyway
Today’s blog is not about sharing “war stories” or another example of one of my failures–I’m sure I’ll get to that on another day–but I would add these thoughts about how to handle it when you eventually encounter someone with whom you didn’t part on the best of terms. You might still be angry or hurt. They might still be angry or hurt. Odds are, though, that you’ll be in a professional setting and have to put on a good face. Put on that good face. Shake their hand. Say the right things. You might not feel like doing that at all, but for one reason or another your work has put you into a circumstance where you have to work with someone you dislike, and paying the bills requires you doing the work.
It’s your call as to whether it’s worth leaving a job to avoid working with someone unpleasant again, but you again have to consider your long-term reputation and other circumstances. Is it a permanent arrangement or temporary assignment? Can you shift out soon thereafter? Do you want to be perceived as being immature or unprofessional because you cannot work with a particular person? Or your old animosity might resurface and you’ll swear never to work with that person again, in which case you’ll learn a professional way to avoid doing so. You might hate it, but sometimes it’s worth it to be “the bigger person,” and just do the job. You might learn to respect the other person. You might repair that bridge.