Don’t Burn a Bridge: 7 Ways to Stay Professional in Tough Situations

Co-workers are a lot like your family at the holidays.

First, you don’t choose your family, just as you don’t choose your co-workers. Next, you have to spend a lot of your time with them, and it’s all in close quarters. There are also certain family members (co-workers) who you’ll always try to avoid because getting along with them seems … impossible.

But the real similarity is that — even during difficult times — just as you shouldn’t burn bridges with the people you’re related to, you shouldn’t burn bridges with work colleagues either.

Fortunately, there are some useful ways to handle difficult work experiences with professionalism and aplomb.

Don’t take it personally.

We know, we know. How can you not take it personally sometimes? But in many situations, the other person simply has varied talking, negotiating, working, and arguing styles. Try to make solving the problem the focus, and leave your feelings at the door.

Quarantine when needed.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a step back, and if you’re someone who tends to “fly off the handle,” the quarantine method can be helpful.

It’s a simple solution: as tensions in a meeting or discussion reach boiling point, just remove yourself from the situation for at least an hour or two. Stay away from the issue, the people, and the place. Take time to think over what you truly want to say, and only then, go back to discuss the matter again.

Don’t talk behind co-workers’ backs.

Not only is this simply a terrible habit to get intobut it can also put you in the middle of difficult situations that you don’t even have anything to do with.

This often happens when certain co-workers gossip to you about other co-workers. In these situations, the best solution is to act neutral. Deflect the urge to join in — even if you want to — and change the subject.

Try to maintain a low speaking voice and volume at all times.

Tensions heighten when voices heighten, and simply focusing on maintaining a low, slow, and even-volume voice can often keep the peace.

Practice diplomacy at home.

Practice makes perfect, and home is the perfect place to try your hand at diplomatically handling tough situations. Try speaking with the husband, kids, neighbors, or in-laws in the way you want your difficult work situations to go.

Know that sometimes, you’ve got to bite the bullet.

In the worst situations where you feel the urge to just scream and quit your job immediately, focus on biting the bullet. Think about your future, think about your career path, and focus on just getting through it without doing things you’ll later regret.

The sad truth is, connections with difficult people can sometimes offer you a lot down the road. The good news is, you can eventually zoom past those people to build your own career sans them.

Lastly, adopt this mantra: “Take the high road.”

Here’s something to take to heart: Without having anything to do with their expertise, knowledge, or ability, at one point or another, everyone gets offended, affronted, or insulted in their place of work. Everyone. It’s how these people handle those difficult situations that defines their character.

Those with commendable character do not snap back, sneer, pout, or burn the bridge. They may calmly say, “Please don’t raise your voice at me,” or “I’d appreciate respect as your co-worker.” But other than that, they brush it off, move on, and take the high road.

The next time you’re in a difficult situation at work that tests your ability to not burn the bridge, use some or all of these tips. And especially don’t forget to take the high road. The scenery is always better.