Our last blog post (Customer Trust: The Right Goal) focused on the importance and process of building customer trust, and it prompted one of our blog subscribers to pose an interesting question: How do we best handle situations where longtime professional relationships need to be ended? Here are my thoughts.
When you are faced with ending professional relationships, there are a limited number of approaches that can increase the odds of making it go well. How well the process of closure will go is not likely to be determined as much by your goodbye messaging as it is by what has happened throughout the professional relationship. If the relationship has been built on a foundation of openness, respect, and trust, there exists a much greater likelihood that the closure will go well. If the relationship has been more shallow and manipulative, there is a good chance that closure will not go so well.
What you can control is how you interact and behave through the closure process. What you cannot control, nor are you accountable for, are the actions and attitudes of the person on the other side of the desk.
A genuine expression of appreciation for past services, a straightforward explanation of why you're headed another direction, and an expression of goodwill is a good three-point plan for communication.
You may want to consider using email to notify the other party that you are planning to head another direction – state that you would like to explain your decision when you have a chance to meet with them next week. The purpose of the email is not to avoid confrontation, but rather to give the other individual time to recognize what is happening and not be in the uncomfortable position of having to respond to your news on the spot. Many of us do much better with a bit of time to absorb and prepare. Of course, there is a reasonable chance the individual may come to you with information as to why you might want to reconsider – heck, there is even a possibility that they will be right.
Finally, it is good to remember this: when someone reacts in an angry and hostile manner to such news, it should not bother you. In fact, it should completely reinforce that you made a great decision to sever the relationship. Adversity does, indeed, reveal character. Conversely, an individual who accepts the news with grace and humility is one who you might want to keep at the top of your contacts file – I would always look for new opportunities to do business with that individual or recommend them to others.