There is an old saying that goes, you should Never Burn a Bridge. I agree. While it might feel good to burn a bridge I think the advice is pretty good and should be followed … with some exceptions and suggestions.

Generally I do think it’s better to stay above the fray and not burn a bridge. However, this doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of cycles trying to keep a bridge from burning … especially when someone else lit the fire.

My point is … avoid burning bridges yourself, but you don’t need to play fireman for someone else’s burning bridge. Use your best judgment and engage when it makes sense.

Also, I’m not suggesting this applies only for business dealings or just to personal interactions. Burning a bridge is burning a bridge.

Let’s talk about a few scenarios where you may be inclined to burn a bridge and a few things to think about before you take the next step.

Different Levels of Bridge Burning and the Effects

Reputation Management

With the rise of Social Media … what you say is there FOREVER. Always remember … There is NO DELETE KEY on the internet. What you say today can and will come back to haunt you and you need to be aware of that.

Even though you may have long forgotten a tiff or a kerfuffle with former business partners or colleagues, the internet will remember. Keep this in mind when you go on a keyboard tirade and want to put someone in their place. Don’t let the heat of the moment get the best of you. Take a Step Back. Think about it … cool down and don’t press send. Your reputation depends on it.

Ethical and Moral Bankruptcy

There are too many examples of people with no ethics, no morals and no scruples to list here. We all know people like this and we do our best to avoid dealing with them. However, there are those cases where we cannot avoid them and we cannot bypass working with them. In these cases it’s best to keep your distance and to make sure you will not be caught up in their charades. It’s important to do whatever you can to make sure you are not painted with the same broad brush that will inevitably be applied to them.

The point here is … it would be nice to call them out. But, too often it’s not worth your chits to do so. Let them continue doing what they do. Avoid dealing with them. Eventually karma will have it’s day and they’ll be exposed for what they are.

Note: Legal Issues are different. This section mentioned Ethical and Moral Bankruptcy. These are primarily character flaws that you can’t and shouldn’t bother trying to control or impact. However, if bad behavior is illegal you should take it upon yourself to report it.

Walk Away and Save the Day (at least your day)

Walk away and wish them well. There are days when you need to step aside and let the Bridge Burners do their thing. If you can … just walk away. If you can’t walk away or completely dissociate yourself from the situation make sure you keep looking for the door and document the misdeeds so that you’ll be able to show what happened. (see Facts aren’t Fungible below).

Sometimes It Just Happens

There are some people that burn bridges all the time and probably don’t even notice. Hopefully this doesn’t describe you. If it does take steps today to start making a change. If you are noticing then you are likely bothered by it … otherwise you wouldn’t notice. Again, as mentioned above take a step back and look at the big picture and see if you can make adjustments to the way the situation arises and how it progresses and most important how it ends.

Facts aren’t Fungible

There is another old saying … There are Three Sides to Every Story — Yours, Mine and The Truth.

Facts have a habit of making themselves known … eventually. It’s much better just to stick with the facts and let the hyperbole be spun by others.

What if it Already Happened?

While it’s not an ideal situation it’s not the end of the world if you have burned a bridge. You can come back from a public goof. As Maria Elena Duron mentioned in her post here — Acknowledge and Own the issue. Empower yourself and your community to work on your behalf and finally make sure you invest the necessary time to work through it and all the ramifications involved.

What About You?

  • Have you ever burned a bridge?
  • Do you wish you could have go back in time and repaired it?
  • Either way … Was it worth it? Would you do it again?


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.