Hint: Don’t do it in a tweet
Beware the dreaded termination tweet.
Soon-to-former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson only learned of his firing after an aide showed him a tweet from his boss, the New York Times reported. Days earlier, White House chief of staff John Kelly had reportedly told Tillerson to truncate his Africa trip, warning that he “may get a tweet.”
President Trump swung his digital ax on Tuesday: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!” he tweeted. “Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” Tillerson, for his part, did not thank Trump during a brief presser later that day.
Most bosses don’t have the stones — or the clout — to fire someone via tweet. Here’s expert advice on how to rip off the Band-Aid with as much compassion as possible:
Prepare. If HR won’t be present, you should have them brief you thoroughly on logistics regarding the employee’s termination date, health insurance, severance and other potential benefits or training, marketing strategy consultant Dorie Clark told Moneyish. “You want to have access to that, because that can help reassure the person and take a bit of the pressure and shock off,” she said. HR will also advise you on things you should say and/or cannot say from a legal perspective, she added.
“Run it through; roleplay it; say it out loud once so you can hear yourself,” added career coach and writer Kathy Caprino. “Make sure the documentation is clear and supports what you’re saying.”
Do it in person. Think of firing someone as breaking up with a romantic partner, Clark said, in that “if someone has been with you for a long time, you generally owe them the respect of a face-to-face conversation.” Find a quiet, private place so they won’t be embarrassed in front of colleagues if they get emotional. If they’re a remote employee, try for a “quasi-face-to-face” mode of communication like Skype or Zoom, she said.
Have some humanity. “If you do it in a cruel way, it’s going to come back to bite you. How will that ever be a positive thing?” Caprino said. “Someone who’s fired in a tweet is not going to take that sitting down.”
Managers will often deliver the news in one sentence and send you right over to HR, Caprino added, or immediately strip you of your key card and laptop. “It’s a horrible feeling of violation, even when you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re just getting laid off,” she said. “I understand why it happens … but it’s not humane.”
Don’t get overemotional. Caprino recalls being told, “This is harder for me than it is for you” during a layoff, calling her ex-boss’s approach “grossly insensitive and angering.” “Sometimes people try to be nice, but what they end up saying is more hurtful and more damaging than it would’ve been if they’d kept quiet.” Similarly, “crying is a no-no” for managers, she said. If you predict you’ll be overcome with emotion during the firing, Clark said, either notify your colleagues you may not be the best person or request a colleague be present for backup.
But don’t be cold, either. Even if someone wasn’t the greatest performer, Clark said, they’re still in “a very human, painful situation where they’re feeling vulnerable.” “It may be easier for you psychologically to kind of cut off your emotions and act like a robot, but that comes across to the other person like you don’t really care or don’t really value them,” she said. Stay emotionally present and listen to the person, Clark added, as they may need to “vent a little bit or to shake their fist at the sky and say, ‘Why me?’”
Never lash out. “If you’re angry at an employee for how they’ve treated you — and we’ve all been there — watch yourself,” Caprino said. “Don’t lash out publicly or otherwise, because what that just shows is your lack of emotional control. That’s all that shows.”
If you feel you’re being asked to execute a discriminatory firing, Caprino said, you may want to seek legal counsel. “(If) you don’t think it’s right and management is telling you to do it,” she said, “you need to think long and hard about your role in a culture that could be discriminatory.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved