Everyone has that fantasy about their last day at a horrible company—the day when they can finally send that email to the entire team, outlining everything that’s wrong with the organizational structure, with the way annual goals are formed, and more specifically, with the person you report to.
Then that day comes and you instead send out a short, sweet email promising to keep in touch with everyone. (Here’s my personal Gmail! you type, to drive the point home.) And you do that because it’s the smart choice. While your original draft may have been chock-full of brutal truths the CEO needs to hear—it would also probably burn all your bridges.
And from day one in the professional world, we’re told not to burn bridges. After all, you never know when you’ll need to reach out to an old boss to ask for a reference. Or, email a former colleague who now has major pull at your dream company. Or, even an intern who showed up late every day but currently works for your career idol.
But, what if there are bridges you need to burn? What if (metaphorically) setting a fire to a few professional connections could make your life a whole lot easier? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are people you absolutely should break up with, professionally speaking, and it will indeed make your life easier.
Better yet, you can do it so nicely that you won’t actually burn any bridges at all. So, with no further ado, here are three people you should bid adieu to this year:
1. The Former Co-worker You Have Nothing in Common With
The two of you originally bonded over your insane boss’ rambling emails and insistence upon keeping you up to date on his ailing hamster’s health. Before long your friendship evolved from the “Hi!” Gchat to the “Let’s grab drinks after work” text to the “My friends asked if we’re dating because I talk about you so much” conversation. Truth be told, you couldn’t get through your day without him.
But then, three jobs later, you realize over your monthly happy hour that you actually have nothing in common. At all. Turns out that getting nostalgic over your manager’s hamster eulogy isn’t that funny anymore, and you find yourself resorting to weather talk before the drinks are even done.
Burn That Bridge
Look, your former co-worker probably feels the same way. The two of you are just doing this out of habit now. So, while you don’t want to just go MIA, you can pull the “I’m so busy” card the next time he suggests you hang out. (And if needed, once more after that.) Trust me: He’ll be relieved, and you’ll be off the hook.
And if that doesn’t do the trick, wean your way down from monthly meetups to quarterly to yearly.
2. The Networker Who Won’t Leave You Alone
You agreed to meet with a recent grad from your college last fall. And she was great—asking relevant, researched questions about your field, inquiring about your career path, and thanking you for your time. You left the coffee date on good terms and told her you’d keep an eye out for any positions you think would be a good fit.
However, she decided the best way to keep in touch was to email weekly to ask broad career questions, see which of your LinkedIn contacts would be best for her to reach out to, and inquire about any upcoming openings in your department.
Burn That Bridge
It’s time for a little tough love. Obviously this person thinks highly of you and is trying to impress you with her go-getter-ness. It would be endearing, if it wasn’t so annoying. So, do her a favor and offer a little professional networking advice. Tell her this isn’t the best way to keep in touch, and you’d hate for her to—get ready for it—burn any bridges. While she may be embarrassed, she’ll ultimately appreciate the advice. And hopefully, leave you alone.
3. The Colleagues You Only Talked to Because You Had To
While there are plenty of people in your office you trust and respect—there are others you only speak to because you need to. Such is life when you’re an adult. Maybe it’s the company publicist who’s the only one on the team who can book event space, or perhaps it’s the tech consultant who you email when the site crashes at 3 AM.
Regardless of who it is, it’s someone you inevitably end up developing a relationship with. Someone who feels comfortable enough to friend you on Facebook. And someone you’re obligated to invite to your party because the rest of the team’s coming, too. Before you know it, this person you don’t love (to say the least) is a part of your social life.
Burn That Bridge
While you shouldn’t immediately block this person on Facebook the second you quit, you can take him off your list of people you’re obligated to be friends with. That means you don’t have to invite him to your birthday festivities, your housewarming party, or a casual drinks get-together. While you shouldn’t go out of your way to be exclusive, you’re allowed to remove him from your mental friends listserv.
While you should never go out of your way to end professional relationships, it is OK to let some fall to the wayside. Assuming you’re a smart and ambitious hard worker, you’re most likely racking up a number of great connections as you climb that career ladder. So, losing a few people along the way won’t destroy your chances of moving onward and upward.
And if you think I’m wrong, let me know on Twitter.
Photo of matches courtesy of Shutterstock.