The Breakup

For all of my insistence on relationship building, let’s face it, there are times when it is time to say good-bye.  That goes for customer/vendor relationships, companies that downsize or need to change personnel for a variety of reasons, pro athletes that get released or traded to other teams, even networking contacts that have outgrown one another.  It is hard.  It is painful.  Feelings get hurt.  But, alas, it is a reality in relationships, no?  The trick, I believe, is to find a way to do so without burning bridges. 

Take two-time Olympic gold medalist beach volleyball player, Kerri Walsh-Jennings (“Walsh”).  Together with partner, Misty May-Treaner (“May”), Walsh took home gold in both the 2004 and 2008 Summer Games.  Following those 2008 games, both players announced their volleyball retirement.  But, Walsh changed her mind.  She approached May and asked her to go to train with her for the 2012 Games; May declined.  Disappointed, but undeterred from playing in London, Walsh approached another player, Nicole Branagh, who agreed to be her partner.  But then, in a soap-opera-esque turn of events, May changed her mind, too.  She went to see Walsh… and well, the rest is sort of history.  The pair is competing together in London and, as of this writing, remains undefeated – not just in every match, but also in every set.  Apparently returning to the Olympics together was a good choice.  Walsh claimed she had to get back together with May “because it’s Misty,” her long-time partner, friend and adopted family member. 

But, wait, what about Branagh, the other player counting on Walsh?  She was devastated.  Walsh invited her out for coffee and, without beating around the bush, reportedly opened with, “I’m about to break your heart.”  So sad.  However, I must say, she did much more than simply make that call – she did the Branagh the courtesy of telling her directly and in person.  Branagh was not happy, but Walsh burned no bridges.  (click here for a good article on the situation by Jim Caple, senior writer at

“It’s not you… It’s me!” may sound stereotypical, but when business dealings no longer make sense, it is time to move on.  Professional breakups are part of the fabric of our lives.  In fact, not ending relationships that have either outlived their useful life, or gone awry for any number of other reasons, can actually lead to bigger problems down the road.  They can hurt our brands, tarnish our reputations and sully the memories of what were once positive, thriving partnerships.  I’m not suggesting that you go through your Rolodex now to clean house, I’m only encouraging you to take note of this delicate situation and be aware of what you need to do when – and if – the time comes.


  • Don’t break up via text message!  Show the other party the dignity and respect they deserve.  Tell them directly that you no longer intend to do business with them and why.
  • Be candid, honest and direct.
  • If you plan to give the other party, “one more chance,” be clear about what it will take to revive/save the relationship and when you plan to evaluate it next.
  • Once a decision has been made to end a partnership, act quickly and decisively.  Do everyone a favor and don’t be wishy-washy.

Hey, this is a difficult topic.  Any advice you have to share with our CoffeeLunchCoffee community is welcomed.

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