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3 Personalities To Prepare For When Firing An Employee

For most managers, having to fire people is a low point of their position.  Truth be told, the situation promises to be slightly awkward and uncomfortable for each party involved, even more so for the employee.  Those in the hot seat can react to being let go in a variety of different ways; read-on to learn how to handle each curved counteraction.

Firing an employee

# 1. The Confrontational Employee

When someone receives the news of their termination they very well may become irritated and argumentative.  For the employee that reacts downright confrontational, it can be easy to get sucked in.

Do not take it personally

While you need to be empathetic when letting someone go you also have to put up a certain shield to protect yourself from spewing hurt feelings.  It is not your job to be well liked; your job is to protect the business.  That being said, allow employees to vent; after all whether good or bad, it is their lives that have just been altered.

Keep your list to yourself

Have a list of incident where conduct and productivity were in clear violation of the employee handbook, but don’t run through each one by one.  Going into too many details can throw you into a debate.  Your job is to keep things brief and to the point so that the decision appears as it truly is: firm.

Arm yourself with diffusers

Using the word “I” instead of “we” is a simple way to make things feel less like a collective attack.  Also, inviting your HR representative to sit-in can keep things calm while supplying you with a witness to the conversation that transpires.

# 2. The Uncomfortably Quiet Employee

Considering the alternatives, the employee who remains quiet while getting fired seems like the ideal.  However, despite their muted dispositions their silence could open you up to some pitfalls.

Do not fill in the empty space

Just because the employee you just let go is staying quiet, does not mean you need to compensate by dredging on with details and unnecessary commentary.  In all likelihood, to the person who has just been fired your voice sounds like the inaudible adults of Charlie Brown. Don’t let the silence make you feel uncomfortable, instead allow it so that employees can process what they’ve just heard.

Spare your feelings

When a doe-eyed employee stares back at you, you might be tempted to share “how uncomfortable it is to have this conversation” or “how hard it was to say this.”  Trust that sharing your own strife will not make the person fired feel better.  Even if they don’t feel the need to be vocal, keep in mind that this is about them, not you.

Do not sugarcoat things

If someone looks sad you might try to cheer them up by making your reasons for firing seem not as bad as they really are.  Sugarcoating these types of things will only add to confusion and will not afford employees the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and get things right in their next job.

# 3. The Needy Employee

Firing someone is unnerving, getting fired, even more so.  As their superior it is not uncommon that when letting someone go they will turn to you with the fear-filled question of “now what?”

Prepare for an exit

Anyone who gets fired is bound to have questions about their final paycheck and remaining health benefits.  Preparing a packet that explains how loose strings will be tied can comfort the unsettled employee.  Also, have them clean out their desks before they leave that day so that their progress can be nothing but forward.  While it is debatable when the best time is to fire someone, it seems clear that earlier is better; letting someone go earlier in the day and in the week allows people more time to recover and get on the hunt for their next job as quickly as possible.

Use eye contact

When someone is falling apart in front of you the worst thing you can do is look away.  Engaging in eye contact with someone who is flailing is the visual version of throwing a lifesaver, it’s something to grab on to.  When explaining the final details of one’s employment keep eye contact as a way to help them maintain focus.

When applicable, help

Especially in situations where letting someone go is a decision based on required layoffs or necessary cost cutting, it’s only fair to extend a hand to help in their next endeavors.  This can be done by supplying a letter of recommendation upfront or giving tips into any appropriate contacts you may have. For the employee who gets fired because of their own doings, don’t stretch yourself too thin when asked to help.  Do be willing to discuss how you will handle acting as a reference for them, i.e. be willing to confirm the dates of their employment and agree to not discuss their performance with others.

What other ways can you prepare for letting someone go?

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Images:  “A worried business man sitting on some stairs  /

Kelly Gregorio writes about management tips and workplace trends while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a merchant cash advance provider. .

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  • Welcome to Tweak Your Biz Kelly – and with an amazing first post. Thankfully I’ve only ever been in the position to fire two employees. The first when I was only 18 and she was older than me – my father thought it would be a good learning curve for me. Left me traumatised as she was so angry. The second was years later and again it wasn’t a nice experience for me but at least the girl was very understanding this time. I’m sure your post will be helping a lot of people that don’t necessarily have the HR training that is really needed to deal with situations like that.

  • Thanks for the warm welcome and comments Sian. Firing someone at 18 does sound traumatizing! Unfortunately I do not think firing anyone will ever be a nice experience, but hopefully by being prepared things can run a little smoother.

  • Its not often I come across such a frank and practically useful post that spells out the stuff some of us consider the White elephant in the room – Thank You . Here’s a question: What advice do you have for employees in a dismissal situation – have you a list of questions they should be asking and follow up ideas?

  • Thanks for your comments Julie and Elish, I definitely agree that the employees need to be the focal point – after all they are the ones whose world just got turned outside down.

    For the employee who is being dismissed I think it is equally important to understand the reason why and (if willing) gain some insight into how alterations to their work performance could have made a difference (to help them avoid any of the same mistakes in their next job). For referential reasons its best not to burn any bridges; no matter bad you may want to save your rant for your friends or an anonymous online discussion forum – you never know when professional paths might cross again in the future. Above all, as a terminated employee know your rights – i.e last paycheck, remaining health benefits. In my article Ive advised employers to have these things prepared- but not everyone will. Protect what you have coming to you by asking questions and, at the very least, leave with the contact info of the person who is going to help you wrap things up.

    Hope this helps, thanks for both of your input!

    Kindest Regards, Kelly

  • Great post and as someone who has had to give people this news, it’s surely one of the worst things you might have to do. That said, sometimes it’s untimately good news for the employee. Not every business is right for every employee, and sometimes going to work for another works out much better in the long-term for the individual.

  • Keeping it short and simple is the best way to go. I think your point about not sugar coating is absolutely key. Have any of you guys seen the movie Moneyball? This reminds me of the scene where he’s teaching his assistant how to let go a player because they’ve been traded.

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