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Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Be Hard to Do


Better to leave an old job – and boss – as friends than enemies

I was a Johnny-come-lately to the dating game. By the time I started dabbling, most of the folks I knew had already been in one or more relationships, and therefore breakups. I had the benefit of a lot of vicarious experience before I started blundering along on my own.

The general rule of breaking up seemed to be that, having had such a close and positive relationship with someone, you now had to shift gears into at least as intense a negative phase. However much affection and goodwill there had been, now it was time for the polar opposite.

There could be any number of reasons for this to be the case. “S/he done me wrong” seemed a common theme. Armchair-psychology also suggests that the intensity of one’s sentiment doesn’t just vanish-it’s easier to channel failed affection into hatred than bland indifference, at least in the short term.

Just as I was getting accustomed to this being the way of things, though, I noticed some folks handling the process differently. Somehow, they didn’t seem to have hard feelings, and it wasn’t unheard of for exes to wind up being friends. How on Earth was that happening?

Long story short: Decades later, it now seems to me that a lot of the reasons given by people (even to themselves) as to why the 180-degree emotional shift is justified, even necessary, are window-dressing for the true motivation. Underneath it all, the true motivation for making things ugly comes down to ego. Or maybe greed, if the now-split parties have to divvy assets such as with a divorce-or a dissolved business-relationship. As with the exes-becoming-friends phenomenon mentioned above, if things can rise above the baser levels of ego and greed, negativity need not result.

There’s no shortage of fodder for bruised egos when it comes to former employers, employees, or business-partners. After all, some length of time was spent working together, and chances are it wasn’t all harmonious-at the very least, something caused a parting of the ways. This one didn’t pay that one enough (in dollars or something less tangible, like respect). That one didn’t work as hard as this one. Or the splitting itself is the bone of contention: A departing employee is perceived as disloyal for tendering his resignation. Or the employer giving a pink-slip was excessively demanding, and/or unappreciative of the recipient’s efforts.

A lot of this stuff is subjective, and some might even be mentally fabricated by one party or the other. Most of it has at least a kernel of truth, however. Let’s even suppose that it’s mostly true: What’s being gained by clinging to these various grudges? Or rising to the bait if the other party appears inclined to make things ugly, by being just as ugly in response?

It’s a small world, so they say, and getting smaller as social media continues to proliferate. One never knows how or when a former professional contact may reenter the picture. Even if you are absolutely convinced that you will never willingly work with X again, on account of the horrible experience you had together, how do you know X won’t turn up in some prominent position within an organization you later need to deal with? Some hospital committee, professional group, or regulatory agency, for instance.

Maybe take a step further: Not only check your own ego and modulate your sentiment regarding a soon-to-be-former business associate, but proactively make it easier for the other party to do so, as well. Maybe you don’t tighten the screws on him in every last way possible. Just because the clauses in your contract with one another say you can make life difficult for him doesn’t mean you have to. Maybe you even point out one or more items that you’re willing to waive in the name of goodwill.

On top of that, let’s completely forget about all of the potential for personal gain, loss, or revenge for perceived slights. Imagine that you and the other party will never cross paths again, nor will you even hear about one another. Why choose to carry the burden of negativity, the bad taste in your mouth, whenever you recall your relationship? It had its time, and now it’s done. Choose to move on clean, rather than sullied.

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