What’s easier: building a bridge or repairing one? Some would argue that building a bridge from scratch is easiest because you can make the bridge any way you want. Others would argue that repairing a bridge is easier because the hard work has already been done. Both answers would be correct unless you were the one holding the match that did the damage in the first place and needed to rebuild. Then my friends – we have a whole new problem to consider. In case you were wondering, by bridge I mean relationships and by match I mean the giant online flame-up some people engage in when a job goes wrong. From me to you: put the match down.

Metaphors and the lack of wooden bridges nowadays aside, we all know the hard work it takes to build bridges within our career industry. Between building up your reputation by providing quality work and networking like a crazy person to get your name out there, there’s a lot that goes in to building that foundation. But it’s yours. It’s built on your creativity, honesty and the proof that you can get the job done. Great! It’s something to be protected at all costs. You build that bridge carefully to lead to jobs, projects and more opportunities. So why do some people choose to throw it all away?

I don’t know about you but when I read the latest report about an employee being fired from a position who then goes on a social media rampage, I wonder: do you really think your industry is that small that you can go all Godzilla on your former employer online? Those colleagues that you added on Facebook and Twitter? You don’t think they’ll pass your rant around like a box of doughnuts? You bet they will. And when will you find out? The day you are sitting across from your former boss’ best friend who is currently the HR manager for the job you just applied to. Or when you are trying to nail down a contract for a project and the lead is your former bosses colleague.

Are there times where you should burn a bridge? Yes. If your reputation is on the line and you are now being associated with a situation or organization which could negatively affect your ability to move on, then light a strategic match. That doesn’t mean you go on an online rant denouncing any and all associated with the situation. It means you have a reasonable story prepared for what happened, how you handled it and what you learned from the situation. Share it when necessary and be honest. No embellishments, no emotion, no minutiae detail. Keep it simple. A very small match that has a controlled burn.

I’ve been there. I’ve been in the perfect position to light a match that would start a bonfire and justifiably so. I’ve been tempted to go online and vent my spleen about the injustice, the damage, and the negativity. But I didn’t. And the day I knew I’d done the right thing was the day I was sitting across from a potential client who was, unbeknownst to me, associated with the former employer in question. When he asked what happened, I had a story prepared that covered the necessities, minimized the negative and clearly demonstrated what I’d learned. After several interviews, the client let me know that they’d gone online to research me and they hadn’t been able to find one reference to the situation and that they were very impressed by that. Phew. A year and a half later, they are still my largest client.

So what’s my point? You have every right to feel how you feel about a situation that spins your life out of control. You have every right to feel indignant and upset and that everybody should know what a Scrooge you escaped from. But those feelings will pass. You will find a way to get past them. Gripe to your friends. Find comfort from your family. Keep in touch with the colleagues you can. But if you want to continue working in your industry, you need to find a way to deal with those feelings that doesn’t involve leaving an online trail that leads right back to your burned bridge.

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