When You Have To Let Someone Go

I’ve been running a business for over seven years, and I can safely say being in charge – whether as the business owner or as someone in a leadership role – is not for the faint of heart.

It’s fantastic to choose the people you work with! You can build your team and make magic. But when someone doesn’t work out, you also get to be the person that has to let that person go.

Is there a “right” way to let someone go? It might be difficult to think about, but certain things make the firing process a bit easier for everyone involved.

When you’re reading this, don’t sit and judge your past behavior! We’ve all made mistakes: just last year, I had to let someone go that just wasn’t fitting the culture and space of the company, and I’m pretty sure I did most, if not all, of these things very wrong. It’s ok! Use this guide as a place to reflect on the past and move towards your future leadership skills.

Rip the Band-Aid® off

When you know you want to let someone go, do it. Don’t let it linger for an extended time and stress about hitting the right timing. There is no “right” timing for letting someone go. Start the process when you’ve made the decision.

Check-in with HR (and laws)

As soon as you’ve made the decision that you’re going to let someone go, double-check with HR (if you have one) as well as any laws in your area.

Keep it short and remove emotion…

A friend of mine told me that when I’m having an issue with someone or disagreement, to use as few words as possible. Fewer words, less chance of miscommunication, overcomplicating, or any of the other issues that come up when we have interpersonal communication issues. Stay on track, to the point, and connected to your message.

The second half of this taps into the emotional side of things: chances are when you’re letting someone go, they are going to be upset. That’s inevitable. That being said, if emotions are high on one side, it’s in your best interest to keep emotion out of it. When you start getting upset for the person that is upset, you’re going to end up overcomplicating it, with, as I mentioned earlier, too many words!

…but show compassion

You are not a robot. While the last tip is to remove emotion, you still need to be human. Statements like, “This was a really difficult decision” or “I would be happy to be a reference for you in the future” or “I’m sorry” can show compassion – if you mean them. If you’re just reciting them to recite them because an article told you this is how you act like a human…it’s not going to be helpful for anyone.

Try to avoid email 

Yes, you can email to schedule the meeting. You can confirm it via email. Let someone go in person. Email can so often be misconstrued and tone is often misunderstood. If you can talk in person, err on the side of that – if they are a remote employee, a call is fine – but a video chat is better.

Focus on your future

You might do all of this and still have hurt feelings on the other side. Letting someone go is always hard, no matter what. Focus on the future of your team – you’re not firing someone just to fire someone. You know there is a better future out there for your company, and probably this employee. Focus on growth and forward motion.



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