If you are in a leadership role long enough, the time will come when you have to let someone go. While no one is likely to enjoy the way you fire them, you can spare everyone a lot of trouble by avoiding the mistakes below.
1. Focus on your feelings
Not only is it inconsiderate to feel sorry for yourself when the other person is losing their job, it’s also an inefficient way to communicate. Prioritizing the listener’s need for clarity can help you keep any conversation on track.
Never say things like “I know how you feel,” or “this is hard for me too.” When you fire someone, your feelings are not the focus. At BRIEF, we like to remind people of the golden rule: don’t say things to make yourself feel or look good—say only what will help the other person to understand.
2. Wing it
You are almost guaranteed to mishandle a termination if you walk in without a plan. If you haven’t listed your key points and prepared for questions or objections, you’re setting yourself up for a conversation that’s more meandering and awkward than it needs to be.
A script or checklist that only exists in your head will likely go out the window if you become nervous, so write it down. This gives you a chance to consider your approach in advance, and can even serve as a record of what was discussed.
3. Ambush them
First, it’s never appropriate to fire someone from behind a computer screen. Anyone who is being let go deserves an in-person conversation. It should go without saying, but don’t have this conversation where other employees can see or hear you. The only exception should be when HR is there for exit counseling or as a witness.
Consider your timing carefully as well. Take into account the employee’s ongoing tasks, and think about which time of day will create the least disruption for others in the workplace.
4. Wind up to it
Chances are, the person you have to let go already suspects bad news is coming. Don’t try to set them at ease with small talk. If they are already nervous, delaying the bombshell will only make the whole conversation more difficult.
Instead, confirm that you have bad news. Then, immediately deliver the decision in direct, straightforward terms. You can always follow up with details, reasons and next steps after the main point has been clearly stated and understood.
5. Make it seem like a negotiation
Don’t leave room for misinterpretation. You need to get across that the decision has already been made, and is final. If you try to soften the blow by saying something like, “it looks like we might have to let you go,” you are suggesting that the other person can argue their way back into a job.
Be realistic about what can be addressed today, and what should be saved for later. Answer questions, but never let yourself be pulled into a fruitless debate or a defensive rationalization.
Contrary to instinct, small talk won’t end things on a happier note. In fact, the other person likely wants this conversation to be over even more than you do. So instead of waiting for the conversation to come to a “natural” end, prepare your ending in advance—even write it out—and then simply stop talking when you reach it.
Remember: having just delivered some very bad news, you’re not the appropriate person to offer comfort or inspiration right now.
There are plenty of ways not to fire someone. You can avoid the mistakes above by prioritizing the listener’s need for clarity. We have tools and workshops to help you prepare. Request more information here.