Hello everybody, welcome to episode 76 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Glad to have you hear today for another one. We’re gonna be talking today about delivering bad news (firing someone specifically) and how miserable a process that can be. But does it have to be? I don’t know, you’ll have to wait and see. Let’s take a listen and see if we can help out our asker with today’s question…
QUESTION: “After being promoted in the past year, the time has finally come that I need to fire an employee who is no longer performing well. I’ll call him Brent. I knew it was coming and as I expected, it’s the one part of my new position that I am not handling well. I know the script I need to stick to and I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help Brent feel better. I also don’t anticipate hearing back before I have to fire him, but in case I do, do you have any words of wisdom for those of us who have to give bad news?”
Bad News on a Personal vs. Professional Level
First of all (and you already know this by now, asker of this question), for anyone out there who does want to submit questions, I try to start outlining them within the first day or two that they arrive even though it does take several weeks for them to air. And I do offer rough drafts or transcripts for askers as soon as possible via email so if you submit a question, you will have an answer from me rather quickly – just FYI!
Ok. So today's is a good and tough question. Giving bad news is also something I have a hard time with as well. But I do have an answer for you nonetheless.
I want to start by saying that although my answer will cover bases on how to break bad news to someone, there’s definitely a difference between breaking bad news on a personal level and breaking bad news on a professional level. Like you alluded to, different companies have different protocol as to what you can say when firing someone and you have to play within those boundaries at work. Personally, it’s a bit different, but today we’ll talk more about breaking bad professional news to people though there will be some crossover. And if someone wants to hear more about breaking bad news personally, I encourage them to send their question in.
Internal vs. External Chatter
Now, in any scenario in which you have to give somebody bad news, I think there are two components. There’s how you’re approaching this situation mentally, and there’s how you’re approaching it practically. In short, there’s the internal chatter and the external chatter.
Let’s start with the external and for those listening, let’s bear in mind that our asker is having a hard time with this and is feeling compassionate towards their Brent. You want to let him down easy, but aren’t sure how especially since there’s a script you generally have to stick to.
What you want to do is try to shift your focus from your personal discomfort and try to step into Brent’s shoes in a way that’s different from just feeling bad for him. That requires you to think back on your interactions with Brent and what you know about his personality – specifically what you’re trying to uncover is how Brent operates and therefore how you feel he can receive bad news gracefully. There’s no reason you can’t tell him what you need to tell him through a presentation that’s fitted to who he is.
For example, if you know Brent to be a guy who finds value in holding people accountable and being up front about shortcomings, look for opportunities outside of the script to be both respectful and direct with him about why he’s being let go and how he can improve upon himself in his next job. Your can also embody this message in your tone and demeanor as well by maintaining eye contact, good posture and confidence in your voice.
Conversely, if you know Brent to be someone who is more gentle and reassuring with people, someone more in tuned with sensitivity than productivity, look for opportunities to offer him THAT. This might mean reminding him of the things he DID do well, the fact that the decision to let him go is purely business and not personal, and so on. Surely, you can also embody this with a kinder voice and more smiling.
How to Maintain Your Composure
So now let’s get back to you and talk about how you can maintain your composure internally and remember the right things when firing someone. When we break bad news to someone, we’re quick to seek out the negative aspects of the interaction – understandably so. But there are, of course, less damning ways to assess the situation.
You need not look much further than your own history and the history of others to start finding a more neutral mindset. After all, what about all the wonderful things you’ve created for yourself that wouldn’t have happened had some original plans not played out the way you intended them to? Maybe you married the right person, but finding them wouldn’t have happened had you not been broken up with by your high school sweetheart who you’re sure was the one. Chances are that a lot of great things in your life have probably occurred at the expense of some bad news as it has with all of us.
Break free of the natural inclination to focus on your short term pain, and remember that this could very well be the best thing for Brent and lead him to his dream job. If you’re able to fire someone, I’d guess you’re in a high enough position to know of the value and lessons that come from failures like the one Brent is about to endure. If you like him enough to feel bad about firing him, you can probably trust him to extract a learning experience from this (which you’re providing him with by the way) and bounce back to make the most of it.
Firing: Be Mindful of The Bigger Picture
Really, it’s a reflection of your company at large right now, which is another piece of the puzzle to be mindful of. If Brent’s being fired, the company has decided they made a mistake in hiring him and are now looking to get stronger by letting him go. Now, through this firing, the company has learned more about what it needs and doesn’t need – how it thrives and doesn’t thrive – and will take those lessons into consideration when hiring his replacement. Brent gets stronger personally. The company gets better professionally, and you’re playing a part in it. Might take time, but that doesn’t mean the benefits won’t come to fruition.
Meanwhile, other benefits will come into play more immediately as now your workers are more focused, more diligent, and have too learned about lesson about what will and will not make the company better. Everything has been given an opportunity to redefine success for themselves by simply identifying something that wasn’t quite a match – and you’re the one who’s jumping on the sword and enduring the quick jolt of discomfort (with a certain degree of compassion) to help facilitate all of it.
That means that you, like Brent, and like the company as a whole, are also evolving as you wade through discomfort, become more capable in a position you’re already capable in, and become more prepared for similar instances going forward. Getting better just got easier for everyone and it’s thanks to you.
That brings us to the end of the episode, everyone. Asker, thank you again for sending this question in on firing someone – I enjoyed talking about it today and I hope it helped you out AND in time for the firing/rebirthing of the one they call Brent.
Everyone else, if you have a question, send it on in. As I mentioned, I do send transcripts out pretty soon after they’re submitted so you have the option of getting your answer much sooner than it ends up airing on the show.
You can submit your questions via email to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Thanks for listening today, hope you’ll stop in next time, and can’t wait to talk to you then.