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Burning Bridges

Question: The conventional wisdom in the advertising/marketing world is to never burn bridges.  Is there ever a time when you can/should, and if so, how?

Answer: The conventional wisdom to not burn bridges is based on the accurate belief that the advertising/marketing community is so small and incestuous that it’s very possible that someone you have a negative experience with will cross your career path again.  And you always need to be able to make that new situation become as positive as possible, without the old baggage rearing its ugly head.

That said, I believe that there are times that you should speak your mind, not just because it’s cathartic to do so, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Examples of this might include:

  • Moral/Ethical Situations – If a client, boss or employee has acted in a way that has violated your (or the agency’s) code of ethics or moral standards of behavior, I believe you are in your right to let him know that you have found that behavior distasteful and unacceptable.

I think this is proper because we should not allow people to make us engage in or be a part of behavior we find ethically and morally repugnant.  And since the likelihood of the person changing their behavior is minimal, we wouldn’t want to ever have to do business with them again anyway.

  • Lack of Respect – Although we won’t always get people to work well together and respect each other as much as we’d like, the minimum we should expect is basic respect and civility.  Our jobs are hard enough without adding in the variable of meanness or abrasiveness.  When a working relationship that was abusive ends, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to let the person know how much more productive and fun and better the output would have been if their behavior had been better.

Of course, the tricky thing about telling someone off is to be able to do it in a way that is classy and doesn’t lower you to their standards, but is also totally impactful and effective.

So, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • When you tell them off, do it alone, without an audience so they’re more likely to listen and less likely to grandstand.

  • Do it in a way that is different than your usual demeanor to make sure you get their attention.  If you’re usually quiet and polite, raise your voice.  If you’re usually outgoing, be serious and focused.

  • When they start to counter your statement or get defensive, don’t let them talk.  It shouldn’t be a dialogue; it’s your time to vent.  So tell them to save their breath, you don’t want to hear it.  But tell them that the next time that they’re alone, to look in the mirror and see if they can tell the person in the mirror that what you said wasn’t true.”

And, it goes without saying that if you don’t think the person is even worth the time to tell off, then just walk away and think what we used to say when we were kids – “good riddance to bad rubbish!”


Bruce Kelley

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