Be careful what you say. The bridge you burn may be your own

Dan Rather’s parting shots at CBS were probably not the most graceful words the legendary Drather_1 journalist  has uttered in his nearly half-century-long career. He lamented the network’s treatment of him and said he would not accept the offer of an empty office and no assignments on which to work. You really can’t blame him. And, considering the fact that his days as a major network anchor are over, Rather probably didn’t burn any bridges with his potshots.

That said, one does have to be very careful about what one says about a former employer or co-worker, especially in such a relatively small field as public relations where everyone knows everyone else. In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to being guilty of violating this credo, having often shared my very negative views on the CEO to whom I once reported. While I was (and am) wrong for badmouthing the guy, many others who have come in contact with the Neanderthal agreed with my feelings (and often have better, even more insane anecdotes than my own).

Badmouthing a former employer can come back to bite you in the butt in the least expected way. Recently, for example, we were competing for a piece of new business against several other firms. At the end of our presentation, the prospect pulled my partner aside and told him that a former employee (now with a competitor) said she had been our best publicist and that, since her departure, we no longer had any top-flight media relations people. The prospect told my partner he’d automatically eliminated the firm because of the unprofessional comment. And, needless to say, that particular individual won’t be welcomed back to our office any time soon.

So, think through what you’re going to say before ‘dissing’ someone. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book about the Lincoln cabinet called "Team of Rivals," Honest Abe would always write a "hot letter" to himself listing the transgressions of someone who had really ticked him off. Having vented his anger, Lincoln then proceeded to discard the letter. That sounds like a great way to deal with negative feelings about former employers or co-workers.

Hat tip to Dandy Stevenson for this idea.

4 thoughts on “Be careful what you say. The bridge you burn may be your own

  1. We’re all guilty of this…and you’d think that in PR “relationship building” we’d know better….It’s the old “you can tell alot about a person by how they treat others…”
    On a more positive note though, if you’re good to your former employer or employees (granted only if they deserve your gratitude – if they don’t then just be polite is the learning it seems), they’ll be good to you and maybe more so than you’d ever expect.

  2. Let the chips fall where they may, I-man. As I wrote, I have been guilty of bridge-burning myself and hoped to point out how destructive it can be. If some former flip-flop wearing staffer turned corporate honcho decides not to include our firm in some future pitch, then so be it. Worse things can happen in life (like a ninth inning Billy Wagner meltdown for example).

  3. rep-
    found this one particularly interesting, will get to that at the bottom.. you are correct and many of us are guilty. but, you left out an important aspect and that is burning bridges with former employees.
    at times on the blog you have mentioned something a former employee did (i.e- what they wore to work, their thongs, e-mails that were sent etc) or you have commented on their pr talent. whatever the case, you are right that it is a small world and you never know where things lead, especially in PR.
    i had this thought a while ago and wondered what would happen if one of those former employees went to the other side and needed to hire a pr firm…maybe the flip flops or thong was years ago but by bringing it up they might not even give you a shot. ya never know..