How To Fire Someone… With Compassion

You really like this guy. You’ve grown close over the years. You care about him. You might even know his family. Perhaps he’s even a strong performer who did something stupid. Now you have to fire him. How do you that?

Firing someone is the hardest thing to do as a leader. Layoffs are awful too, but at least there’s a softish landing and some conciliation that it’s not their fault.

This post is not about whether you “should” be firing this person. I’m assuming you’ve vetted that given appropriate second chances, and now are stuck with “how.”

HR will tell you to keep the “conversation” short and direct. To tell, pack, and escort to bring a witness. Don’t apologize. I’ve even done terminations where we had extra security planted around the corner in case “things got crazy.”

If you need some help with the basics, good advice includes: The 10 Worst Things To Say to An Employee When You Fire Them and The Best Ways to Fire Someone. All points, necessary, but not necessarily sufficient.

Fire Me, But Remember This

Follow the above advice. And if your heart calls for more, keep in mind.

1. It’s not about you.

Helpful words

Firing is so challenging for both the one doing the firing and the one being fired. It brings a great amount of emotional vulnerability into an environment which doesn’t usually make a lot of space for it. But the one who is firing must be careful to share only a small amount of their distress. If the one firing attempts to be compassionate by displaying feelings: sharing sorrow, expressing how uncomfortable the process is, or revealing too much of any kind of emotion, it robs the one being fired from his or her own experience. It makes the event about the them. It invites the one being fired to take care of the one firing, which is distorted and provocative.
So it is important to remember when firing with compassion, at bottom, it is not personal and it is not about you. You can be warm and considerate, but beware of being emotional or dramatic in an attempt to show that you are compassionate. You can care about the person while keeping the correct distance to allow them to have their experience, without asking them to worry about yours.

2. They did something wrong, they’re not something wrong.
Ensure them that this mistake does not define them. Give them a chance to talk if they need a minute.

3. They have a future and could use some hope.
I always plant a seed about an optimistic future, even if I’m furious with what they’ve done. Help them to fail forward.

4. You can say goodbye.
I’ve never regretted taking a moment to connect and say goodbye. If you were close, it’s okay to say something personal if it feels right.

Compassionate leaders stay compassionate. Stay firm, don’t back pedal, but it’s okay to connect and say “goodbye” and “you can survive this.”