Creating Professional Relationships that Matter

We have all heard the expression “don’t burn any bridges” when it comes to one’s professional career. The underlying meaning in this highly connected world? Destroying or maligning a relationship might hurt you in your professional future. What worked for the Roman Empire might not work in these politically sensitive times.

Most of us pride ourselves on maintaining professional relationships, striving to do good work and creating a stellar reputation as a knowledgeable expert in our chosen field. And there are people – bosses, boards and peers – whom we have to please or work with during the course of our duties. Keeping good relationships is key to everything: to a good partnership or marriage, to a workplace environment and to creating a successful professional network.

Not burning bridges serve us well – up to a point. I believe that blocking off certain bridges, rather than burning them, might be more productive. In fact, maybe not every “bridge” is meant to remain intact. Maybe it’s better to keep some people at arm’s length or gradually end the relationship over time. For instance, you might have a supervisor who is disrespectful or takes you for granted, and there is no chance you will change this person’s behavior. You might have colleagues in the work group who take advantage by pushing themselves and their opinions in an overbearing way. What about the person in the next cubicle who thinks you want to hear every gossipy detail of her drama-filled life?

Burning a bridge would mean giving these individuals a rude hand gesture and a big fare-thee-well speech! While it might provide a momentary feeling of relief, it would eventually reflect more poorly on you than on the person for whom it was intended. Most people don’t see the frustration that built up to that moment; they just see the out-of-control person you’ve become during that public tirade. It is important to remember that the person you disparage today might be the person (or best friend of the person) who sits on the board or hiring committee of a future opportunity.

Instead, what I encourage is to slowly build a wall between you and the destructive people in your life. Visions of the Berlin wall should not come to mind. That wall was an overt act that upset a lot of people. I’m talking about a simple, invisible brick wall your target might not even be able to detect, as communications and interactions begin to diminish and eventually disappear. You might actively seek movement to another place or position that takes you away from the situation. The other person might think you’ve gotten too busy or – better yet – not even think about you at all: “Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s an advantageous situation. If you happen into his or her circle in the future, it won’t be awkward. In fact, he or she might still have a favorable impression of you.

I’ll admit to not having handled every ending relationship in the best way. However, over the course of my career, I’ve found that ending things on a good note always leads to a more harmonious professional future. This year, streamline your professional network. Instead of wasting your time and energy on destructive or less-than-helpful relationships, strengthen existing relationships or build new relationships with people who have your best interests at heart. A small network of great supporters is better than a huge database of folks who barely know your name.

Surround yourself with cheerleaders, coaches, and teammates who will truly make a difference in both your professional and personal life.

About Your Columnist

Tammy Rimes is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers leadership topics. A consultant and keynote speaker, Tammy works with government officials across the nation on efficiencies and effective leadership. At the same time, she teaches companies how to work with government agencies and win government contracts. Beyond her expertise in government, she owns a family winery that was counted among the top five wineries in San Diego County in 2014. Her book, Drink Fine Wine…Ride Fine Horses: Leading the Life of Your Dreams, teaches others how to begin their own dream life.

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