You’re fired! It sounds so dramatic and like you’re finally getting to enact some justice on a loafer who has been sucking the life out of the company and its team members. This is rarely the entire story though, and even more obscure is a feeling of satisfaction or glee when letting someone go.
Usually, the real issue is that the person isn’t a good fit in the organization or the position. Perhaps you’ve worked to amend or adjust the situation for quite some time or maybe a significant enough gaffe happened that it ends any path to move forward on. Maybe it is a financial reality for the organization, or maybe it is the only way to streamline overlapping jobs. There are so many reasons a person is eliminated from an organization, but if you are the unlucky soul tasked with the duty, consider these tips to make it a humanized process and not simply a harsh assignment. The ideal goal in any exit is to have a healthy departure with the soon-to-be-former team member.
The tendency to villainize or judge the person who will be fired is strong. We don’t like to be the one to hurt someone or cause pain, so we often shift our thinking to make the person seem like a monster or at least a highly unlikable individual. We do this so that we can focus the blame on the other person and then we don’t see ourselves as the “bad guy” in the story. If the person is egregious enough, then our act is justified or easier somehow. This isn’t a fair approach. Like all of us, the person losing their job is most likely a complex mix of many traits. To frame this person in all negatives not only isn’t fair, but it voids your ability to act from a space of respect and kindness. It will also negatively affect the culture. If your, even non-verbal, message about the person is judgmental, other team members will wonder what you’re saying behind their backs. It creates a culture of fear that lacks transparency.
The other tendency is to pity the individual. You feel sorry for them and begin to dehumanize them by imagining this to be the only or best opportunity for them. No one wants to be pitied and it almost always comes across as condescending. The idea that you are the only choice or that they are less than capable is disrespectful. Respect the other person enough to honor the difficulty that they are experiencing and extend the belief that they will find a path that fits for them. Remember that every job should be mutually beneficial. The organization and the individual need to benefit. When that is not in balance, a respectful exchange evaporates.
Lean into the Discomfort
The key is to lean into the discomfort of the situation. Of course you are there to follow all of the HR protocols and procedures, but if you are going to stay emotionally clean, compassionate, and aligned with integrity, you are going to need to lean into the feeling of discomfort. The person isn’t to be villainized or pitied. Those emotions or responses are just buffers from the fact that this is hard. You can extend compassion by understanding that this is difficult while holding the belief that the person can optimize the situation for themselves if they choose. Focus on letting them absorb the information, not rescuing them from the difficulty. Some people will want to know explanations, some may wish to debate, and others may want to finish quickly and exit the conversation. It isn’t a time for discussion or a lot of explanation. It is a time for solemn respect, necessary information, and no judgement.
Firing someone is never an easy time, but it can be a time where the culture you wish to build is reinforced and the respect you wish to extend to everyone can be exercised.