How To Spring Clean Your Contacts (Sometimes You Just Have To Burn A Few Bridges)

May 23, 2016  |  

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While conventional wisdom says one should never burn bridges, there might just be some bridges in your career that need to be burned. The key is making sure you burn the right bridges.

“The only bridges you should ever burn are those that are out of your control,” explained life management expert Kimberly Friedmutter. “Many times along the career path, the other person may make ‘nice’ so difficult that they themselves burn the bridge.”

Though Friedmutter’s philosophy is “even the worst of contacts can be kept,” other career coaches suggest dropping some contacts that don’t mean you well, like those who only bring negativity into your circle.

“We should always eliminate network contacts who lack gratitude or who may take advantage of our generosity,” explained career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen, who was the official career coach for the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Cohen is no stranger to burning a few bridges of his own. “A former client of mine reached out to a member of my LinkedIn community and arranged to meet for a lunch. He showed up with an empty wallet and no excuse. The truth is, he should have sprung for lunch. Both my LinkedIn friend and I dropped this fellow immediately.

“We only end a relationship if being tied to that person or organization is a liability,” Cohen added. “If there is any potential to damage our reputation then we have no choice but to publicly renounce our connection. For example, if your boss was involved in a criminal activity or the company is known for being a bad place, burning a bridge may actually reflect positively on you — that you had the courage to make a bold and significant decision.”

According to Levo, there are three categories of behavior which signify a person should be cut: “A boss or manager who is verbally abusive; unethical behavior or activity by a manager or the company at large; and bottom-line mentality, meaning the company’s bottom line is always more important than your individual professional development.”

But be careful of the method in which you burn the bridge. The general rule is the action should be discrete and professional. “Always bear in mind, when you end a relationship publicly — like quitting your job impulsively and letting everyone know how bad it was — the Internet has a long shelf life. Your actions, which seem perfectly justified today, may feel foolish in five years when you are back in the market in job search and your job movement comes into question. You then become the problem, not the situation you exited,” Cohen pointed out.

Also, be very selective when you opt to burn a bridge. You need to be as strategic in weeding out contacts as you are in building your network. “As strange as it may seem letting go of a line manager that you didn’t get along with, it’s probably not going to be as much of an issue as letting go of a CEO/director of a company,” said Joe Flanagan, Senior Consultant at Velvet Jobs, a resume builder and job search facility. “This is because the CEO probably has a lot more contacts themselves and so in future they may be able to help you find a job you want.”

As a general rule of thumb, Cohen said, “We always maintain and nurture relationships with contacts who are well-connected, smart, informed, and who think highly of us.  These are the folks who have either achieved success or will, and to be a part of their community is a gift,” said Cohen.

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