Burning Bridges in the Communication Field

In my twenties, I’ve come to learn that building relationships in the communication field is fundamental to being successful. As a new and young public relations professional, it is also my job to build a trusting relationship between the public and organizations.

Even the definition of public relations provided by PRSA states, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” which proves true because we need these connections to do our jobs, involve the public, and live this kind of lifestyle. But sometimes there come times when a relationship is not mutually beneficial and not worth your time or energy. So how do you decide, especially at a young age, when to burn bridges with others and when to keep relationships with those in the communication field? A considerable amount of thought should be put into whether or not to burn a bridge, mend a relationship, or continue to maintain a relationship.

Before I go more in-depth with this topic, I think it is important to define ‘relationship.’ According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a relationship is defined as, “The way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other”. When I say the word relationship for this particular topic, I am not technically referring to a romantic relationship.

Moving forward with this subject, I find a lot of younger individuals burn bridges more quickly than others. For example, there are a lot of attitudes out there that revolve around the quote “I’m making changes in my life, if you don’t hear from me, you’re one of them,” provided by an unknown source and used on many memes being shared around the internet. From a personal standpoint, I can understand that maybe there is a reason one decided to cut that person out of their life. From a professional point of view, there could be awkward consequences in the future if one decides to go separate ways with someone or a relationship ends on a bad note.

I think the biggest reason a relationship ends is both parties are not benefiting from one another. Also, communication in a relationship is imperative. For a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship, two-way communication is the key. When communication is lost, or there is only one-way communication, then this is where confusions, mixed signals, and feelings are hurt, causing the relationship to diminish. I’m not going to go all communication theories on you, though, I promise.

From the beginning, we find our niche, our group, and the people we want to share details of our lives with. As we grow up and evolve, so do our relationships. But there are times where I have felt that certain people should not be entirely in my life for a few reasons. Sometimes certain people only belong in your life for a limited amount of time, and sometimes people stay for a while because of the positive impact each of you has on each other. It all depends on how well the relationship was cultivated and maintained. The same goes for organizations.

Many organizations take the time to cultivate relationships with others, especially the media. Having the media automatically know your brand, what you do, and talk about it without being asked is a great relationship to have. On the other hand, sometimes an organization does not understand the importance of a relationship, which can have an adverse effect on the relationship, leading to there not being a “mutually beneficial relationship.” If they are the only ones benefiting from something, then it is just not worth our time and energy. As an organization, there are enough aspects to worry about, and there needs to be an understanding between both parties.

When you come onboard to a new position, you learn the relationships with other organizations. You could have great ideas for partnerships for events, but you have to know what the type of relationship the organization has with the other organization before any further thoughts, planning, reaching out, and initiating an offer to work together on something.

But what happens when business and a personal burned bridge cross each other? For example, you know a person you cut ties with, and they are applying for a job at your company. It could get super awkward if you are in the interview with them, depending on how the relationship ended. Whether you ghosted them or one day decided that there was no need for the relationship any longer, it can make all the difference. It will all come down to how they perceive you, especially with how the relationship was maintained or ended.

I’m sure the saying, “It’s all about who you know” has crossed your mind before or someone has told you that. It’s not a lie. Calls will be made, and deals will be done more likely if they know you in a positive way. If their opinion of you is negative because of a past relationship, don’t expect much. You cannot undo the way you made someone feel, so make the conscious effort to put thought into whether or not a bridge should be burned.

Having a large network can positively affect the success of not only yourself but the organization you work for. At this twenty-something age, building an extensive network is something you need, and burning too many bridges will have a negative impact on your business and personal growth. In college, we were always stressed to network at PRSA conferences and meetings to further career and personal development because you never know who you are going to meet. The people you meet and cultivate relationships with now will have a positive impact on both of your career developments, so make sure you make a positive, everlasting impression on them, and maintain it, so a bridge is not burned foolishly in the future.

Tell me about a time where you felt burning a bridge was necessary or had an awkward encounter after burning a bridge in the comments below! I want to see how you dealt with it, how it affected you, and if any further engagement happened. 


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