They say never to burn bridges, but it still happens—especially in the workplace. What should you do if you seemingly ruined a business relationship or botched a project? First off, don’t panic. The bridge may not be completely in ashes. And even if it is, there are a few things you may want to consider as next steps.
Objectively look at the situation and assess the damage. From there, decide if you want or need to apologize. As part of that apology, convey that you take responsibility for your role in the situation, says Alexandra Franzen, author of You’re Going to Survive. “Very few people are willing to take responsibility and make a genuine apology. When you do this, it’s impressive,” Franzen said. Try to think about why you acted in the way you did—or what caused the other party to react the way they did. It also helps to think about the consequences of your actions. If you accidentally missed a deadline, it may not be as dire a situation as if you told your boss to go to hell (in case that doesn’t go without saying).
If it feels relevant to the situation, you may want to explain how you’ll prevent similar problems from happening again in the future. “Demonstrate that you’re not just apologizing with your words—you’re apologizing with your actions, too,” says Franzen. “Show that you’re committed to making things right.” Sometimes it may take time for the other person to cool off, so to say. In that case, gauge whether an immediate response is needed. You may be able to try to reconnect with the other person in a few weeks or months (hopefully to find out that all is well.)
Nobody’s perfect—sometimes you lash out or have another stressor that causes you to act poorly. “Sometimes, people burn bridges. But every day is a chance to be better,” she said. “Above all, treat yourself and others with respect. Be careful with your actions and words,” says Franzen.
Keep in mind that you may not intend to burn a bridge—but doing so can be a good thing. Sometimes it happens when you’re in a situation that doesn’t align with who you are or what you want, says Nicole Roberts Jones, founder and CEO of the FIERCE Factor Lab, a training and talent development company. Roberts Jones notes that it is okay to sever ties in certain situations—there are exceptions to every rule. “You want to let go of certain opportunities that are not in alignment with who you are while keeping your reputation and dignity intact,” she said. “Some bridges need to be burned in order to move forward and live abundantly. Burn the bridges that are no longer serving you.”