After leaving my job two years ago, I recently learned that I’ve gone the entire time without burning any bridges. There is a touch of irony in how I came by this information. I live in South Florida, and there are a few ways we celebrate Christmas that are unique to our locale. One of those unique ways is our annual holiday parades—we decorate boats.
Fortunately, for my family, we also live in close proximity to a bridge that serves as one of the many milestones on our local parade route. This exquisite little detail makes for a perfect family friendly holiday tradition. As a large excited mob, we annually crest to the top of this nearby bridge and view the decorated boats floating below.
Many of us gather together to take this uphill trek and find ourselves descending in similar fashion, one mass of congenial parade viewing stragglers. In 2019 (a pre-COVID Christmas), I had kept pace on the downward descent with a friend, as well as a newbie to our group. My friend made a quick introduction between myself and the young man—who I later learned had just moved to the area—and piggy backed her intro with some quick context for him.
“Melissa is one of those people there is always a place for on staff.” The young man she was talking with was very excited to have been extended an offer of employment to join the staff of the church we all attend. My friend, a current employee and my previous coworker, was filling him in on “who” I was.
The kind of person I chose to be long ago dictated the person I needed to be to leave my previous job without burning any bridges.
Work relationships can be challenging. Some may think working at the church you attend sounds like a slice of heaven; in reality, it can test your courage in ways you might never have imagined. I had experienced both elation and dismay during my term on staff, and the emotional mix of holding both ends of this spectrum required both grit and grace. It also created some intense internal pressure. But it’s how you perform under pressure that leaves a lasting impression.
How to Build a Strong Workplace Reputation
I was pleased that her words were in earshot as I jaunted down the bridge that night. After two full years, the impression I had made on my previous employer and coworkers was still positive. So how did I get there? Here are some of the things I did intentionally, even more so when I knew I was leaving my last job.
1. Use This Conversational Tool to Build Healthy Work Relationships
Always build relationships. While the coworker relationship most likely won’t last forever, the personal relationship can. Relationships are naturally built by establishing trust, sharing experiences, and getting to know over time what makes a person tick. None of these occur easily in a workplace environment. However, there is a simple tool that you can use to create a relationship when these building blocks aren’t available: your conversations.
There is a well-established method used to simulate the same emotions that a personal relationship evokes, which is called F.O.R.D. It’s an acronym for how to create great conversations with anyone that lead to connection:
F.O.R.D. is the method I’ve always used when meeting new people. My goal is to connect with each person in a way that feels safe for them to share their life with me, verbally. Most likely, there will never be an opportunity to “do” life together with them over time, but sharing about these four quadrants of living simulates the same connection.
I brought this style of conversation with me into my last job and used it up until the very moment I exited my role. I never changed. For me building relationships through conversation is just something I do. This left my coworkers connected to me as a person, not just the job function I was performing within the group.
2. Your Character Will Be Evident Through Your Job Performance, So Act Accordingly
Another way to build a strong workplace reputation that also allows you to exit any job well is to decide how you want to be seen through the lens of your work performance.
Your work product is not just evaluated by its quality but also by the quality in which you express it within a team or group, or even the organization as a whole. Your personal core values will shine right through everything you do, both the big and small, as well as the exciting or mundane. Your employer and your coworkers should both have the same impression of who you are and the work product you produce. I had the good pleasure of experiencing the importance of this principle in my last job.
Our team was given a monumental project to deliver with a very tight deadline. My position on the team served to be a conduit between our senior executives, my coworkers, and even our end customers. It was not an easy position to play, and most of the details of my work were never seen. That was until our project was delivered, with exceptional results. Yes, 100% it was a group effort, but when given the opportunity, the senior executive literally awarded me the MVP award. Why? Not because my role held the most significance, but because I was “all in” on the assignment.
Big or small, exciting or mundane, who you are and the way you do things will always shine through. You get to choose who you are, as well as the way in which you want to be seen by your employer and coworkers.
Grit requires that we be “all in” even when we know our time somewhere is coming to an end.
3. If You Want to Exit Your Job With Grace, Choose Your Words Based on This Acronym
And last, but certainly not least: how to exit with grace. Hopefully, you get the opportunity to express final thoughts and feelings of your experience before leaving your job. Most organizations schedule an “exit interview” before your last day. This is a great opportunity to finish well and finish strong, both which will aid you in keeping the bridges you’ve built intact.
But what should you do when things weren’t all that you had hoped they would be? Maybe you are leaving well, but the people you’ve worked with are pulling away because of your departure. This is common. You may be moving onto greener pastures, and those people you’re leaving behind resent you for it. Or you may be facing your own struggles, and the timing for your departure is leaving others in a pinch. It happens.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone, and in the end, you are the only one responsible for you. So, do what you can to consider your transition plan, then courageously put it into action.
There’s another acronym to help you navigate the choppy waters that roll in during the “exit interview.” You may have heard it before. When given the opportunity to express your experience as an employee at the organization, choose your words carefully, or T.H.I.N.K. In regard to your organization, your supervisors, and your coworkers, only say what is:
You will be thankful you did when you’re in a new space and emotionally more detached from the transition. The relationships we build with the people we meet are ultimately the bridges that connect us to one another. More bridges, more connections. It’s just that simple.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: 6 Qualities that Make a Female Strong with Leadership Expert Jenni Catron – 030