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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

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      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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