When You Have to Let People Go, Do It With “Professional Kindness”

Article main image
Mar 31, 2015

I hate firing people. My heart always wonders if I could have done more to make it work, or if I should have given them another chance. But my head knows that I cannot run a profitable business AND employ people who don’t meet the standards of the company.

As harsh as that may sound, that leader is entirely correct.

At some point it becomes obvious that a team member or colleague isn’t making the cut, no matter how many opportunities they are given. And while we tend to look at firing someone in a negative light, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

How to give them “professional kindness”

It’s true that delivering unwanted news to an employee will never be a fun job, but there are ways to frame it in a different, more positive light.

In other words, it is important to use professional kindness.

  • Give them a reason. You don’t need to go into minute details, but it can be helpful to offer constructive feedback as to why this decision was made. Remember, it’s not just about firing someone who isn’t a good fit for your company, it’s also about being a part of their growth going forward.
  • Leave room for questions. It’s OK if they prefer not to, but you need to give them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have – and be prepared to answer them. Depending on your relationship with the individual, or the size of your company, you could offer to speak to them later, once they’ve had a chance to process the news.
  • It’s all about context. People aren’t always fired for negative reasons. It’s possible that the person may be a fantastic individual and employee, but not a good fit for the job. If there are specific skills which they are unable to master, to leave them in the role would result in added stress and frustration for everyone involved. If appropriate, to help the individual find professional success – even if that means letting them go – follow your bad news with a good letter of reference to take with them.
  • Accentuate the positive. It can be difficult to find encouraging things to say to someone you are firing, but it’s important that you do more than simply hand them a pink slip. Give recognition of a successful project or a skill set they developed during their tenure. Don’t overdo it in your praise – you’re still letting them go – but do be genuine and forthcoming in acknowledging their positives attributes.

If you have to let someone go – be honest, be kind, and be helpful in preparing them to excel at their next job.

This originally appeared on the Jeremy Kingsley blog.