Being a firm believer in choosing the right words in all situations, I often find myself studying the impact of things I hear. I think about how the words make me feel. Then, I try to turn the situation around to where I capture an understanding of the person who said them and what they really meant. Not many people do this. Few invest the time and effort into studying words, even though how you use them dictates nearly everything about life, relationships and business.
When you reach the level of manager, executive or business owner, you really have to watch what you say and how you say it. You now have a group of people whose lifestyles depend on your business. They will always be on the alert for any sign of challenge in the business that could negatively impact them. You must learn to be crystal clear in your communications, yet use words that evoke the emotional impact you desire.
If you must tell your team about changes in the wind, always do so from their perspective. Let them hear the benefit to them of the change first. Then, get into the details once you know they’re in a positive frame of mind about it. If you begin talking about change from the company perspective first, it’s likely to set off emotional alarms. People will start wondering about how they fit into the new situation, possibly discussing it with someone sitting near them, and not listen intently to the balance of your message.
One of the most common situations top people find themselves in is where someone in the company hasn’t done their job well and needs to be removed from the payroll. They need to find employment elsewhere. That’s a nice way of saying they’re being fired. You would not likely come right out and tell someone they were being fired. The term fired can fire people up and take things to a confrontational mode before you even get the rest of your message across. Termination is another one of those emotionally negative terms. It brings to my mind something a gangster or other bad guy would say. Being terminated can deliver quite a shock to anyone’s system.
Both of those words can create a certain amount of stress in the person doing the terminating or firing as well. No one wants to be that bad guy, putting someone out on the street as you’ve seen in the movies or even on the news.
Ending someone’s employment can be even more stressful to the person doing it than it is to the person being let go. First of all, you know about it in advance where the recipient only finds out during your pronouncement. You may be the one making the decision. You have to choose the time and place for delivering the message. And sometimes, there’s an awkward waiting period before it’s the right time to do it. A waiting period after the decision is made allows time for certain fears to arise, if you let them. There’s a fear of confrontation. There’s a certain amount of guilt. And, in today’s times, a fear of saying just the wrong thing and ending up in a legal dispute about the situation.
Before you ever get to the point of telling someone they must find employment elsewhere, be certain you have documented their performance properly. If you’re in a position to do so, have you offered training for them to improve their skills? Have you counseled them to let them know they’re not performing up to par and offered advice or assistance? Do they have a goal or quota they must meet? Are they tracking their personal productivity toward the goal? If they’ve failed at any of the second-chances you’ve provided, don’t be guilty! They knew what was expected of them and they made their choices. Now, they get to handle the consequences of those choices.
Why do we, as managers, terminate? We have to terminate people for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is if a person has blatantly broken any company policies. The breaking of company policies can often lead to ruining your reputation in the community, lowering the standards of the company, or even leading to decreased morale among the other people who work for you. You cannot allow someone who does those things to negatively influence your reputation or the other fine people working for you–the ones you want to keep.
Termination is also necessary if you have someone who is using unethical business practices. Lying to the public will ruin the growth of the company. Negatively impacting your company’s reputation steals opportunities from the rest of your team. The rule of thumb about this goes like this: If someone has a good experience with your company, they’re likely to tell three people about it. If they have a bad experience, they’ll share it with eleven. You just can’t risk bad PR if you want to keep your business stable and allow it room to grow.
So what are the guidelines to terminating when it does need to be done? First of all, don’t tell anybody else in the company, other than those who might prepare a final check or other paperwork, that you are going to terminate someone. Even then, only tell them when you need the paperwork done. Don’t tell them weeks in advance that the termination is coming. When others know, you often lose control of a situation that you may never have felt comfortable with in the first place.
When you are ready to terminate, it is best to do it prior to a company meeting, if you have them regularly. This is so after the dismissal you can inform your staff of the change and that you are there to continue leading them. Never knock the person you have just terminated. Never discuss the details of their termination with other staff members. Once the announcement is made, move onto more positive business to get their focus back on today’s business and their part in it.
Always terminate with their file in front of you. Refer to everything you’ve done for them (or the company has done). If at all possible, bring them to the point of admitting that they haven’t fulfilled the goals. They haven’t internalized the training. Or, that they haven’t met the standards they were given. Don’t let this go on and on. Simply tell them of the decision to make the change. Wish them the best of success with their “employment change” and get the necessary paperwork completed. Allow them to save face by leaving the premises at a somewhat normal time–at the midday lunch time or just before closing time. Terminations are never enjoyable and lengthy discussions aren’t necessary when handling a termination. Develop your own style, but keep in mind that they should be handled quickly and professionally.
Think carefully about the words you choose to use in discussing the termination. Here are just a few to consider as replacements for firing and termination: make a career adjustment, seek employment elsewhere, move on to another employment situation outside of our company, or no longer work for our company. These phrases are kinder and gentler, yet convey the message clearly. We’ve found their use to decrease the number of defensive confrontations encountered by employers who must end someone’s involvement with their company.
Consider making the study of the words you use in your everyday communications your hobby, even for a day. You’ll be amazed at how different things could turn out with just a few minor changes.
Reprinted with permission of Tom Hopkins International, Inc. www.tomhopkins.com 800-528-0446