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Burnt Bridges

Burnt Bridges

Today's expression, "Don't burn your bridges behind you," comes from military strategy. It means one should always leave a way to retreat when going into battle. Symbolically, it means that we should always leave relationships or circumstances in good standing.

The restoration industry and all the construction trades in general seem to have a landscape littered with burnt bridges. PBI will frequently acquire a new client where the relationship between that client and the former provider is no less than toxic.

These situations make it much easier for PBI to win a new account but in the end, it’s bad for everyone.

Recently PBI executed a contract with a large corporation for our restoration and reconstruction services. This client had previously had a contract with a competitor and had needed services over the holidays.  Even though contracts were in place for this scenario, emergency requests to our competitor went unanswered. Being on a holiday, the client’s options were limited and bad turned to worse.

To further escalate the tensions in the following days, the service provider didn’t take responsibility and blamed the client for the failure in communications. Even if that were an accurate assessment of the situation, it’s playing with fire and you know that bridge was going up in flames.

68% of customers who leave an organization do so because of an indifferent attitude, poor treatment or a perception of non-caring by the service provider. Only 14% leave because they’re dissatisfied with the product or service.

Even though we all have our blunders, misunderstandings or people just think the grass is greener on the other side, most people are fair-minded. If the relationship ends in a professional manner, there is always the possibility of a renewed relationship down the road (when they find out that grass wasn’t so green after all).

If the relationship ends in an unprofessional manner however, it’s almost psychologically impossible for someone to cross that bridge again. Never do something permanently foolish just because you are upset at the moment or need an excuse.

I’m always astonished when we do reference checks for new candidates and their history is filled with burnt bridges. The advice here is the same: to the greatest extent possible, end your relationships with employers on a good note. Failing to do so is simply cutting your own throat, although it may be far into the future before you realize the consequences.

To be fair, though, I’m also one of those who believes keeping every bridge intact isn’t always a wise decision either. If that bridge takes you to a destructive place or the relationship is always taking and never giving back, then sometimes you do need to light a match to keep the crazies from following you! That should be a very rare occurrence, however.

All in all, we should always be aware: the bridges you burn today will likely be the bridges you need tomorrow!

Mike Popowski is President of PBI Restorations. Reach him at