Don’t Write Letters

Three employees are headed toward what’s next and appear to be having some trouble leaving behind what was. They’re stuck at a prickly juncture on route to an unfamiliar place. Each wants to even a score:

“I was recently let go from my job and I’m still reeling from the experience. I feel like I was set up to fail. I want to write a letter to the plant manager letting him know just what happened and who he really needs to blame.”

“My boss asked me to sign a letter of resignation. He says it’s that or be fired. I think he’s a loser and this company stinks. That’s the only letter I want to sign.”

“I am leaving my job to join another company, one that’s much better than the sorry place and the sorrier people I’ve been working for the last 5 years. I’d like to write that in my letter of resignation along with a few other well placed zingers.”

No matter how badly you want to set the record straight, how right you think you are and how wrong you think they’ve been; no matter how clear, logical, and rational your argument, please don’t write that letter. You’ll come across as defensive, demeaning, and otherwise unable to accept the reality of your situation. It’s over. Let it go.

You’re working in a small world that’s getting smaller. Odds are, you’ll see these people again. It’s as important to you as it is to them to leave bad situations on good terms. Don’t burn bridges better left standing.

What’s so hard about letting go? In his book, “Managing Transitions”, author William Bridges describes the dilemma of change and our role in it as needing to have endings before we can have beginnings; that until we make sense of where we’ve been we’re stuck in the transition, unable to effectively move toward what’s next and what’s new.

Some employees are stuck in transition, staying with abusive bosses, assuming the insults will decrease or become more tolerable. Some stay in bad jobs, assuming the job will change or become more tolerable. Some employees stay where they are because they’re afraid to leave or stay until they are told to leave. Many employees are unaware that misery has a cost and a consequence that can blindside careers and personal relationships.

Get unstuck. Rather than assume and create different problems or repeat bad history, test your hypotheses and find out what was going on. Get closure on difficult situations by learning from the experience and converting that knowledge into new attitudes and behaviors. Widen the lens through which you gain perspective. Ask those who were present to describe the part that you and others played and what happened as a result.

Heighten your self- awareness. Read body language. Pay attention to the cues around you. Turn on the lights, something’s going on that needs your attention. Ask what it is and do something with what you see and what you hear.

Read the company’s culture, its unique set of values and beliefs. Employees who are attuned to the culture and responsive to it are typically comfortable within it and do reasonably well. Those who are either insensitive to it or disagree with it are apt to challenge and be challenged.

Read books and articles that address best practices in leadership, management, and supervision. Attend workshops and seminars to learn what you know and what you don’t know and need to learn.  Find a mentor, get a coach, learn from those whose interpersonal styles and life skills you value and are worth emulating. Ask for ongoing feedback from objective employees and ask what you can do to return the favor.

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