You can make firing someone a lot less awful for both of you

Forget Perfect



Lisa Earle McLeod

You’re fired.

Donald Trump may relish delivering the blow, but for many of us, myself included, firing someone is gut-wrenching, break out in a cold sweat, and dread it for days horrible.

I remember the first time I fired someone; he cried. I was the sales manager of the college paper, and had to fire a sales rep, a fellow student who was underperforming.

I handled it poorly. My own angst and nervousness made me curt and abrupt. When he started to well up with tears, I did the same. It was awful.

But like it or not, if you’re in a leadership role you’re eventually going to have to fire someone. It’s never fun, but you can learn to do it with dignity and grace.

There are two reasons firing people is hard: ego and compassion.

Ego: when you’re worried about being liked, it’s hard to be honest with people. You’re more likely to delay giving negative feedback, which makes the firing process harder because you don’t have data. You’re less empathetic because you’re more worried about what the other person thinks about YOU, than how they’re dealing with the blow.

Side bar, if your ego is so distorted that you enjoy firing people, read the next section carefully.

Compassion: this serves you well. If you’ve ever been fired, you know how awful it is, even if you deserve it.

I was once fired from a waitressing job at a failing restaurant. Our paychecks were bouncing, I despised my boss and, truth be told, I was doing a less than great job. Yet 30 years later I can still feel the hot flush of shame I experienced when my boss gave me the sack. Firing me in front of the kitchen staff didn’t help.

Roberta Matuson, author of Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace that Attracts and Keeps the Best, offers this advice to help make the firing process more civil:

“It’s not about winning. Your objective is to transition the employee out of the organization with as little fanfare as possible. This can be accomplished when you shift the power back to the employee.”

She says, “Instead of firing the employee, perhaps you can give him an option of resigning. The employee gets to depart on his terms and won’t have to go home and tell his partner he’s just been fired. He gets to keep his dignity and, in the end, you get what you want. This employee is no longer part of your organization.”

Matuson also says, “In spite of what you may have heard, Fridays are not the day to fire people. The fired employee has the entire weekend to do nothing but think about what just happened to her and what she might say to the attorney she’s about to hire. Choose a day during the week so the employee has time to file for unemployment benefits and begin reaching out to his or her contacts.”

The alternative to firing isn’t not firing, it’s better hiring. Matuson, who consults with organizations like Monster and Staples, to improve talent selection says, “Employee selection is job number one. Take your time, do this right and you can dramatically reduce the amount of times you have to say, ‘You’re fired’!”

Firing someone is never easy and it shouldn’t be. But when you handle it with dignity, grace and compassion, it can be slightly less than awful.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant and author of several books (


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