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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Problem with Burning Bridges


Imagine this: your boss has once again given someone who you feel is less qualified a promotion over you; or your leading a team to do a company report and one coworker gives you his piece of the report late leaving you scrambling to meet the deadline. Chances are you've experienced a situation similar to one of these. Misunderstandings and differences of opinions are not only a part of our personal lives but a part of our professional working lives as well. How we handle tough situations at work may have a lasting impact on our careers. When faced with these situations some choose to bury their feelings which can lead to a continuation of the problem or a lack of devotion towards work. Others become angry and burn bridges they may need later on in their career.

Consider the recent feud between Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and NBC. Jay Leno says that he was approached by executives back in 2004 about stepping down at the Tonight Show to let rising star Conan O'Brien host the show. Despite the desire to stay on the Tonight Show, Leno announced his retirement from it and stepped down after 17 years last year. He was instead given a half hour prime time show on NBC. After four months of The Jay Leno Show, ratings continued to be poor. NBC decided to move Jay Leno's show to the time slot held by the Tonight Show and push Conan's show back. Conan refused to cooperate with the plan. Leno and O'Brien started making cracks at NBC for the mess in their monologues and eventually turned on each other as well. Conan eventually negotiated a $40 million dollar deal to leave the Tonight Show after just seven months of hosting it. Despite the circumstances surrounding his departure, Conan's final thoughts towards NBC in his last show were very gracious. He understood that no station hires comedians solely on fame. His future career depended on his ability to show a forgive and move on mentality. It is too soon to tell how the feud will effect the careers of both comedians, but with the negative press surrounding the events, it almost certainly will. Not every one's situation is that dramatic or public but like these comedians how we handle tense work situations will effect our careers and our value in the eyes of the company.

As in most situations, proper communication is the key to whether the situation is handled well or poorly. The authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High understand that people have a tendency to communicate poorly when under pressure or when confront. This New York Times Bestseller seeks to teach people how to communicate effectively and calmly when opinions vary, stakes are high or emotions run strong. What is a crucial conversation? According to the book, "they are day-to-day conversations that affect your life" (1). The tools in this book require a lot of practice but may keep you from burning bridges or running away from issues that a truly important to you. Reading this book is a good investment for your current or future career.

Crucial conversations tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

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