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How to Fire Someone

How to Fire Someone

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    By trade and training I am a writer and editor. I never had any education in managing people until I received the best kind: being thrust into the middle of it and being forced to learn without any preformed conceptions from some old tradition of management that academics espouse. I’m not belittling education. It would have been helpful, and trained managers are no doubt much better than me. But sometimes it’s good to get involved in something without the notions instilled in you that everyone else has.

    Management is pretty easy for me, but I remember that one thing that got me at first was letting people go. It was hard, it sucked, and at first, I lost sleep over it. I am not the kind of guy who likes to displease people. For the record, it is still hard, it still sucks, and yeah, sometimes I still lose sleep over it. When I was appointed to a management position that required me to get rid of a whole lot of deadwood and revitalize a project, I didn’t sleep much at all for a week.

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    I often wondered — if I’d had some education in management, would this come easier to me? Would I have learned some of the skills and techniques required to let people go? For some reason I doubt there’s much that makes it easier, but there are probably a few tricks you learn in business school that would help. I don’t have those. What I have got is what I’ve figured out on my own, sometimes after making painful mistakes. I hope you don’t make them yourself.

    Image by texas_mustang.

    Be Honest

    I don’t mean to say you have to tell the individual in question what a terrible and incompetent person they are and that you’ve hated every piece of work they have done for you.

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    What I mean is that there’s a big temptation to color the truth, tell half-truths or even complete lies (though they do seem to be, at first white lies), in order to comfort the individual losing their paycheck. We know it’s painful to be let go and for most people, the natural instinct is to want to lessen that pain.

    The bottom line is: if you tell them that they were good at their job, they’ll just be confused, and they’ll still be hurt because they are suddenly out of an income. The obvious exception is when you’re firing them because of redundancy or downsizing, in which case they quite possibly could’ve been good at their job and they’ll be getting some compensation to keep them going for a while anyway.

    Be Neutral

    It is important to be as emotionally neutral as you can be. You don’t want to be flustering with smiles and sympathy, and you don’t want to be cold and harsh. Keep it pleasant, but don’t be too friendly. You are not their comforter and trying to be will result in trouble. Let them down as easy as you can without being unprofessional, and then let them go home to their spouse, family or friends for that comfort.

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    It’s worth reiterating that being neutral doesn’t mean being cold or putting on your poker face. Be nice, but not too nice or not nice enough.

    Be Empathetic

    Be empathetic, not sympathetic. Do understand the individual’s situation. Be understanding when you talk to them and they get angry or frustrated — don’t flip out back at them. Be understanding and refer them to some kind of resource that advertises jobs for people in their field (one site I manage is convenient in that we run a job board). All in all, be understanding. Provide whatever assistance you can and whatever resources your company offers outgoing employees (or even long-time contractors).

    Be Decisive

    Make sure you are decisive in tone and wording. If, in your uncertainty and unease, you use wording that seems less certain but gives them wiggle room to argue their way back in, they’ll try and take it. Sure, their attempts might not succeed — you’ve only said things that way to make things less uncomfortable for yourself, not because you meant it. But it will make things very uncomfortable and opens the door for a very heated argument.

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    Get It Done

    Don’t look for way to put off the firing. It’s got to be done and delaying the inevitable makes it harder for you. It may even leave the individual in question feeling a bit nervous — I’ve read some professionals say that, according to research, employees almost always know when they’re about to be sacked.

    It is plainly more difficult and stressful for everyone involved when you put off the firing until another day. Once the decision has been made, make the arrangements straight away.

    No Martyrs

    Don’t make a martyr of the employee. Every time you let someone go it should be done respectfully and privately. You should have someone else present to act as a witness because often, firing someone causes them to go after you with lawyers. That individual should be one of your own colleagues or a superior of yours — nobody equal to them in the organization. Being fired with one of your peers present is embarassing for the individual.

    Firing people isn’t easy. It probably does not become easy for anyone, though you might become desensitized to it. These tips will ensure you do a job you can’t kick yourself for afterwards and help prevent any escalations in the situation or any false hope in the terminated individual’s mind.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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