It is an age old adage most of us have heard all of our lives, but what does it really mean? In the workplace or job hunting environment it refers to not damaging professional relationships to the point of harming your career.
Case in point: as a program director at a local proprietary school in Atlanta, I managed a staff of diverse individuals with equally diverse personalities which, although challenging, is also stimulating and preferable. However, one employee was particularly difficult. She refused to acknowledge authority, did not adhere to department regulations and was consistently hostile, rude, and belligerent toward her superiors. Unfortunately, for this young lady, her rudeness and complete lack of tact extended beyond our departmental offices. She was verbally abusive toward the school's executive director and other managers. She was eventually fired, of course, and the facility was able to thrive and flourish despite her protestations to the contrary.
Several years later, the school's executive director had moved on in his career to a lucrative position in another company with hiring responsibilities and input. This same individual who had treated him and others so harshly in the past happened to send her resume in consideration of an open position with his school. What do you suppose was the result?
Not only did he remember her name, he recalled her inability to work well with others, her habitually negative attitude, and lack of individual responsibility. Upon the request of the Human Resources manager for his opinion regarding this particular candidate, he advised the HR department to abstain from contacting her for that specific position or any other position within the company.
Undoubtedly, she wonders why she was never called to interview for a position clearly conducive to her skill set and previous experience. Sadly, she will likely never know that her behavior and performance had come back to haunt her.
In a nutshell, "don't burn your bridges" means you should maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, do your best in the work environment, and maintain genial, professional relations with your manager and colleagues. Granted, none of us are perfect; sometimes, your boss, co-workers, or even the job itself can drive you up a wall. Can you lose your temper or make an inappropriate statement or two? Sure. It happens to the best of us. We're only human, after all and, therefore, imperfect beings. However, it is in your best interest to try to repair any inadvertent damage and always leave a situation on a good note. You never know if the person you insult or treat unfairly is going to be in a position to assist you in the future.
Besides, it's good for your psyche and for your soul.
Coming up: Is it okay to take a break from your job search?
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