What NOT to Say to Someone Who Has Been Fired

Getting fired sucks.

Side note: I apologize to my mother for the language, content and sarcasm in this blog.  The woman has spent a lifetime telling me to “be sweet”.  There is nothing sweet about being fired and really, this should not surprise my mom, but still, sorry.

I do not care if you saw it coming, if it was out of the blue or even if you wanted to quit – getting fired sucks.

It is emotional, humiliating, degrading, demoralizing and can cut you to the core.  We so often identify ourselves with our position that it completely eliminates who we are in one fell swoop.

It strips of us our identity, our perceived value and what we think is our worth.

It is like that really bad breakup.  You know the one, like you were planning a vacation together and a few days before your significant other decided they no longer wanted to be in a relationship by announcing that “it just isn’t working for me.”  And that was that.  No explanation, no reason, no measure of dignity.  Just. Over.

But here is the difference: when you have a bad break up, you can assign a bad guy.  Deserved or not, you and your friends can designate the other person as the bad guy.  It helps you feel less unworthy.  It helps you fully grasp the “it wasn’t you it was them” concept.  They were a jerk, period.

You can’t really do that with a job.  You could go around telling everyone what a jerk your old boss was or what a crazy-looney bin the organization is; but all this will do is reflect badly on you.  It is bad business; it is bad for your reputation to badmouth your former employer.  Just don’t do it.  Someone you bad mouth them to will know someone else and it will come back and bite you in the butt.  Trust me on this one, please.

Yet, when someone tells us that they were fired (let go, released, downsized – whatever) what do we instinctively do – we treat it like a break up.  I am not pointing fingers; I am saying this is a natural reaction and human nature.  We ask or say the dumbest things that to the person who was dumped for no good reason whatsoever.

We do not do this intentionally; our brains and our mouths disengage at the moment that we hear the word “fired”.  We morph into fixers or sympathizers and say something to try to make them feel better, but more often it is to make us feel better.

Husbands and boyfriends want to fix it, wives and girlfriends want to talk about it infinitum; generalization, I know.  This blog is primarily for interacting with people that you are not intimate with, those you know on a professional or business friendship level.

Let them vent if they want to vent, do not assume that getting them to get it all out is what they need.  If you are not close enough to this person to know if they need a shot of tequila, a shot at a boxing bag or a shouting match, do not assume.

Here are a number of things I have heard said to someone who was fired (and this includes me) along with thought bubbles in the fired person’s head:

Oh crap, what did you do?
     Seriously? Way to jump to a conclusion!
Oh crap, what happened?
     Because I want to relive this horrible moment again
What are you going to do?
     Sit on the couch and eat bon-bons and wait for the perfect job to knock on my door
Man, I thought that was the perfect job!
     It was, just apparently not for me
Wow, I’m so glad I still have my job!
     Because this is now all about you?  That helps
So what have you been doing, I would go crazy not doing anything all day!
     Bon-bons all day long
If you could get fired, that makes me nervous about my job.
     Oh, well, then let me take this opportunity to make you feel better
Yeah, I heard, the boss is really trashing you at the office.
     I wasn’t feeling bad enough about all this, thanks that takes it to a whole new level
At least you had a job
     And now I do not, what the hell is your point??
You’re young, you will bounce back
     I’m not flubber and now I feel old, too
I am so glad I have never gone through that!
     Congratulations, jackass
At least your significant other is still working
     Yes, so now half of our bills can be paid and half of our children can eat, whew, what a relief
You know you will land on your feet
     I’m not a freakin cat
There is a reason for everything
     What is the reason that I am talking to you?
Hey, I heard you got fired – what’s up with that?
    Apparently I sucked at my job, thanks for the delicate way in which you approached this subject
I always hated that place anyway, this is a good thing, you just don’t see it yet.
     I wonder if anyone would see me punch you in the mouth if I employed my ninja skills
Here is what you need to do…
     Gee, just what I want, someone to give me a detailed chore list while my life is in the crapper
I heard, Joe and Suzie were just telling me the other night at a dinner party
     Not only was I not invited, but you were talking about pitiful me? I hope you chock on the networking chicken
Oh my gosh, that happened to me, but I got the perfect job like a week later!
     Not about you cupcake and I do not have anyone beating down my door right now, but yay you

After being fired people process the emotional roller coaster in different ways in different time frames.  They can be upbeat and happy shortly thereafter and then – boom – panic and depression out of the blue.

They may be barely holding it together and then they hear one of the above.  It is enough to send them over the edge.  I don’t care if is a day, a week or a month later – it can be the feather that knocks them over.

No matter what your internal feelings are, insecurities about your own job or personal experiences with being fired – remember, at this very moment, it is not about you.

So what can you say?

I’m sorry.  What can I do?

Or

When you are ready, I’m here; I will do whatever I can to help.  In the meantime, I will check up on you now and then, is that okay?

Be real, be genuine, be all about them.  It is okay to say, “That sucks – what can I do for you?” Do not try to get the gorey details and remove the pity from your voice.

They will hear a lot of people tell them that they will be there, but it will be difficult for them to reach out to ask for that help.  Remember the demoralizing factor in all this?  It doesn’t go away easily.  They may be thinking, “not only am I incompetent to keep a job, now I have to go beg people to help me get another.”

Rational, no; reality, yes.

Check up on them.  Send an email, text or phone call to just say Hi and see how they are doing and is there anything you can do to help.  Do not force yourself upon them, but be kind in letting them know that you really are there and wanting to help however you can when they are ready.

If you have a lead or suggestion, ask them if it is ok to send to them.  They still might be a little insecure about their ability to bounce back or they may see it as an implication that you do not think they are doing enough on their own.

Rational thinking is not always utilized during this time so better to be safe than sorry.  It also helps open the communication a bit and let them know that you are not making any assumptions; rather, you truly want to help without overwhelming them.

The single most important thing you can do for someone going through this is to treat them with respect as the same person that you respect and value.

–Lisa

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One thought on “What NOT to Say to Someone Who Has Been Fired

  1. Thank you. I was fired last month. First time in over 20 years and with no warning or reasoning. Just happened. I feel like the whole world is looking at me with a look of pity and shame and until I put this and years behind me I’ll be only part of the person I was before.

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