October 16, 2023 5 min read

Building or Burning Bridges

There may be times where you’re tempted to say what’s on your mind regardless of the consequences. In the moment, voicing your opinion without thinking things through may seem like an appropriate response. You might feel like it reinforces your image with an aura of authenticity. If you think back, you may recall hearing from family members, professors, or classmates, that while it can be difficult to hold your tongue in the heat of the moment, you shouldn’t burn bridges. However, there may come a time where you must weigh the cost of speaking up and decide if it’s more valuable to maintain the lines of communication and continue to build bridges, or reduce a relationship to nothing more than a memory. 


Dictionary.com defines a bridge as "A structure spanning and providing passage over a river, chasm or road." In other words, a bridge connects one thing to another. The smartphone on your desk or the table in front of you could be a bridge to facilitate a conversation with a close friend or colleague on the other side. In a relationship with personal value, you would be willing to invest the time and effort to repair the damage, rebuild the bridge, and re-establish all lines of communication. On the other hand, if the relationship is professional, take the time to evaluate the situation and recognize how allowing the bridge to crumble could affect your performance, productivity and reputation. While you can try to get along and build bridges with as many people as you can, you can't expect them all to like you, and to be fair, you won't like all of them either. As you develop and mature, your personal and professional relationships will evolve as well. Ask yourself what you can do to communicate better.

In a Forbes article written by Ron Caruccis’ titled, How To Build Bridges Between The Most Bitterly Divided People, Ron references a four-phase model for structuring complex conversations among people who can’t see eye to eye. The model was developed by two-time Emmy-nominated TV producer Riaz Patel. 

Riaz Patels’ four-phase model to build bridges: 

  1. Equalization: Talk about what you both know. Equalization challenges us to think and speak for ourselves instead of regurgitating opinions we’ve heard, seen, or read. When we engage and actively listen to what others say, we may notice flaws in our ideas and lower our defences as they become human in our eyes. Riaz says people become human when they start thinking and speaking for themselves.
  2. Personification: Talk about what only you know. When you talk about your beliefs and their origins, you will realize you don't have all the answers. These revelations allow you to open up to another's perspective without being defensive and build genuine connections.
  3. Information Gathering: Learn from what they know. Information gathering allows us to learn new perspectives by listening and asking questions to understand someone better. These conversations will reframe your opinions by sharing the reasons behind the beliefs and motivations of the other person. The goal is not to change your mind or theirs but to understand why they see things the way they do. According to Riaz, information gathering leads to a “deeper understanding, and therefore empathy, for those who don’t share their beliefs.
  4. Collaboration: Talk about what neither of you know. Collaboration allows us to apply problem-solving along with new insights about one another to accept and share different views freely, while working toward a common goal. At this point both parties Riaz Patel says, “They both want many of the same things while still fundamentally disagreeing on several issues.

Allowing yourself to use words to incinerate a relationship, whether personal or professional, can create an impression that lasts for years. In this context it means standing your ground. You can choose to keep tensions from boiling over by holding your tongue, or you can get the wind behind your back and use it to push yourself forward and speak your mind. Liz Ryan wrote an article on Forbes called “Never Burn Bridges -- Except In These Five Cases” where she says “Sometimes burning a bridge is the healthiest thing you can do.” So, in essence, there are times when burning a bridge built on an unhealthy amount of patience, and silence is the only path to salvage your morals and ethics. If you must burn a bridge, do it wisely, with your eyes open. Be true to yourself and embrace the consequences and residual effects that you may not see coming, but are surely on the way.  

Liz Ryans’ five situations to burn bridges:

  1. If you might be tempted to use it again: If your work environment is populated by toxic personalities and behaviour - there’s no point in staying. Liz Ryan goes on to say that if you chose to be honest with your manager about your reasons for leaving, you may have already burned the bridge. You won’t be able to go back because your words won’t be forgotten. By burning the bridge, you can’t revert to something comfortable, you must move on. 
  2. With someone who tries to dim your flame:Never hesitate to burn a bridge that allows someone else to take advantage of you or your work ethic. When someone shows you their true colours, don’t make excuses for them. Trust your intuition, and more importantly, the persona they’ve shown you. 
  3. To support your friend: When you leave a job because of poor treatment from management, chances are you won’t be the only one who wants out. If a friend from your old job is still struggling to find a way out, they may reach out to you for help. If you must burn a bridge this is probably one of the best reasons to do it. 
  4. When your integrity requires it: If you must choose between your integrity and burning a bridge – burn the bridge. You should never question whether your ethics are more important than your job. If you ignore your ethics to keep your job, you could lose both. 
  5. When your trusty gut tells you to: There may come a time when things just don’t feel right. If your manager or colleague is doing something unethical like spreading gossip, keep your distance, cut them off and burn the bridge. 

Humans are social creatures, and while we may strive to maintain and build relationships, sometimes we must burn bridges to maintain our sanity and preserve our beliefs. Bridges connect one place to another, but they can also be metaphorical, facilitating communication between people. We all have experiences that have moulded us into who we are today. Whether we choose to build or to burn bridges, there’s a lot we can learn from perspectives that differ from our own. 

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