I regularly read career advice articles about coping with a bad boss or how to fire someone in the most appropriate way. What I can’t find much on are insights and tips about ending a work relationship with a person who’s not your manager or your employee, or ending a personal relationship that adds no value or drags you down.
You know what I mean?! I am talking about the LinkedIn contacts or the Facebooker or the personal friends or the co-workers with a not so positive vibe or influence on your life.
You know the sort of contacts, the acquaintances and the former networkers who just follow us and don’t add any value to our life or development. Some might even drag us down with their commentary, negativity, sheer presence or hinder us in our pursuit to live a positive and successful life.
How do you know when it is the right time to cut ties and what is the most appropriate solution to ‘burn the bridges’, and how can you extricate yourself with your dignity intact?
I personally believe that we should spend our energy to develop and nurture positive relationships. I am also a firm believer in a ‘start and finish everything on a high note’ philosophy and that we should all do our very best to manage our relationships without abandoning our own dignity. But I also know that you sometimes have to start fresh or change your strategy and that it sometimes requires you to ‘burn some bridges to light the way’.
Well, when you burn bridges you sever ties with someone. My analogy is saying that when you do so, it should lead you to a more stable place in your life. I have experienced this once or twice in my professional and private life where I decided to cull some bad influences, contacts and relationships in order to move on.
One of my most influential mentors during my Telecom years was Graham Maher, the former CEO of Vodafone Australia and Allan Lew, the CEO of Singtel Optus Australia. Their combined advice formed an essential strategy approach which I regularly unpack when I feel the need to cut ties. So, I’m passing on some of this advice and some of my own. See if some or maybe even all of it suits you and try them out.
Step 1 Burn the bridges – cut the ties …
Recognise that the relationship is too loose, negative or maybe even toxic and unhealthy. Acknowledge that, although it might be difficult, you need to end this relationship, the networking contact or maybe even the friendship.
Admit that you hold some responsibility for this toxic or useless relationship. No one can abuse or take advantage of you without your permission. Not even if they use Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn or any other social media communication tool. By taking responsibility for your role, you will be less likely to become involved in other toxic friendships.
Play the game not the person
Choose a neutral location to talk to your contact. Set a specific time, and prepare what you will say. Allow time for your friend to talk as well, but have a plan in the (likely) event that your friend becomes manipulative or abusive. If this is not possible and we are talking about a social media, then use all the smart privacy and setting tools to cut the ties in ‘stealth mode’ without offensive, open and confrontational communication.
…but not mean. Rather than taking on an accusatory tone, tell your network contact or friend that you are not able to handle his or her needs. Start your sentences with “I” statements, such as “I feel that this or that is not working well,” rather than saying “You do this or that – keep it neutral but genuine and refrain from “fluff talk”. In the end, it IS about how it makes you feel, so focus on this rather than being accusatory.
Make it clear that the relationship is over
… but make sure your friend, business or network contact knows you don’t wish any ill on him or her. Maybe even make an effort to state that you will not bad mouth your friend and hope your friend will do the same. Remember that you can only control your actions, and the people who know you and matter to you will not believe any gossip. If all this appears too involved, use the stealth mode privacy changes in your forum groups and networking or social media sites and cut the ties. But be sure to read the instructions and follow the steps. Don’t be one of these ‘let’s just change the settings’ guys. I have seen many embarrassing Un-Friend or Un-Link postings and they aren’t good for your reputation either.
Step 2 Light the way to a new future …
Cut the Negative Loop
There’s no law that says you have to love all your friends or the guys you work with. The same applies to your LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter connections. Most of us will only consider ending a relationship if such an action won’t negatively impact our private, or our professional livelihood. This is easier said than done. I used to fear confrontation and that behaviour has led me to avoid toxic people rather than communicate my opinion, expertise or sometimes, even my feelings. I sometimes would sit down with the person but often ended up skirting the issue completely. Although
Adjust the Bar
If you consistently find yourself in this similar position, you might examine your relationship patterns.
Some individuals get involved with the wrong types of people, both in private and in business and even online, because they are lonely or want to be accepted or crave attention. Those individuals need to raise their ‘bar’. On the other hand, there are those who are too sensitive or too critical, and they have the bar up too high. While you can’t control the behaviour of others, greater self-awareness may facilitate a smoother outcome next time.
So, have you recognised any of your own behaviours so far? Most of them, you say? Well, take some of it to heart. I’m not here to tell you how to suck eggs but I know that you can change your direction and light the way. I’ve seen people go from zig zagging through their professional life to securing great jobs and careers… and then building it into something stable and prosperous. I learned it myself and I discovered that it all depends on the actions you are willing to take.
Step 3 Building new bridges…
Examine the list above and identify the ones that hit home. Be honest with yourself. It’s painful to examine the ugly truths about our own behaviour, but acknowledging the part you play in your current situation is the first step in producing the results you desire.
Commit to change
Decide that you are going to drive your own bus. You can’t control the economy, your employer (or lack of one), your company being bought or going bankrupt, or other people’s decisions or actions, but you can control what you think, how you communicate and what you do. Picture yourself getting behind the wheel of that bus and taking charge.
Be aware of how you appear to others
Do you seem desperate? Are you one of these serial stalkers or connectors in LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook? Take a network or friendship inventory and make repairs. You may feel desperate, but there are ways to appear confident and create meaningful connections. For instance, asking well thought out questions of others, and sharing useful information and insight in forums and network groups are all ways to show others you would be someone they would want on their team or to connect with.
Never give up
Impossible is Nothing says one of my personal business heros , Addi Dassler, the founder of Adidas. He was defeated repeatedly with his business bids for big sporting contracts, he went broke and into debt, suffered unspeakable personal losses, struggled with deep depression, and faced uncountable setbacks during his career, many being brought on by the hands of his networking and business friends, but he went on to become one of the most successful and influential business people in history.
Why? Because he never gave up.
So get cracking and hunt wisely!