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?


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.


You are Not the Only One

I think that people generally want to belong.  We find friends of similar interests and mindsets.  We are drawn to people like ourselves or that have qualities that we respect or identify with.  There is a part of us that does like that alone time, but as a whole, we like to be around others similar to ourselves.


Why is it when something bad happens in our life we naturally assume we are so unique as to be the only person in the world that has either gone through this or understands it?


When we get fired, laid off or displaced we retreat into our own little world thinking we are alone.


There are situations that it may be hard pressed to find someone with the exact same circumstances; however, you are not alone.


So why do we allow ourselves to feel that way?


Fear or embarrassment. 


We don’t want to admit that something bad happened.  Perhaps it will be seen as a poor reflection of ourselves.  I was fired so therefore I must be the worst employee ever.  People will think differently of me, people will not respect me, people won’t respect me.


I wish for one moment that all those going through that thought process would take all that energy they are putting in that isolation into doing something positive.  If I could have wrangled all those negative feelings when I was in that same position and put it into cleaning my house – it would have been spotless, Mr. Clean would be impressed.


It is wasted energy.


First of all, you are not the only one.


No, it is not the most pleasant thing to talk about.  However, if you can take a much less pessimistic view and open up to people then what you might find is you will hear a lot of “been there, done that.”


No one needs to know the gory details of why it happened.  The simple fact is it did.  Don’t elaborate on it.  Just state it and immediately, in that same breath make a statement that you are moving forward.


It will be hard on two fronts.  First, the need to feel that you need to defend yourself.  You don’t.  Just state it plain, simple and quick.  Second, people are damn nosey.  You might get the “what happened?” questions.  This will be difficult to avoid getting sucked in.


It is like when you break up with someone.  I was engaged and then one day, I was no longer engaged.  When people found out more often than not I heard two statements back to back:


“I’m so sorry!”

“What happened?  You guys seemed perfect together.”




Thank you for the support and thank you for wanting to get all the details of which I was having enough of a hard time dealing with.


I got to the point that I started using one of my most prominent attributes: humor.  Ok, let’s be honest, it is me.  I used sarcasm.  I started replying with:


“Thank you”

“Someone forgot to tell us we were perfect for each other”




“Thank you”

“Obviously we weren’t perfect for each other, but good to know you thought so, now I know never to let you set me up.”


Or something like that.  The point is, I cut it off.  I didn’t allow someone to get the “skinny” on something negative that happened to me.  It wasn’t their business and by reliving it, I was not able to release it. 


Today, I see it as a blessing.  Before I got to that place I had to realize that I wasn’t the only one.  Other people broke up and were fully able to move forward with their life, why couldn’t I?  And I did.


There are very few people that can claim such horrendous circumstances in their life to claim that they are the only one.  Nelson Mandela is one that comes to mind.  But the thing about Mr. Mandela is that he still remained positive.  He didn’t wallow.


Stop wallowing.  You are not the only one and although it might satisfy someone’s curiosity, don’t relive the experience.  Accept it, learn from it and move on.  This will allow you to reconnect with the world again and truly move on.  And one day you might find that this horrible event was one of the best blessings you could have ever received.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Brand Strategist & Career Coach





Exit with Grace

broken heartLeaving a position is like a break up and sometimes it is your idea sometimes it comes out of the blue, but the point is it is happening whether you like it or not.  Who made the call is irrelevant, the main focus is how you leave.


That lasting impression.


It can be a very emotional time yet this is the time that you need to let your brain shut your heart up.  Leaving with your heart can lead you to all sorts of problems.  No matter how hurt or upset you are you need to leave with grace.


Remember one thing, no matter what you do – it is over.


You are not going to change that.


Another important point to remember – this is business.


Sure there may have been personal issues involved in your departure but at the end of the day it is still business.  This was a place you were paid to perform a service.  Keep it business.


Let me be blunt (I know, what a surprise) they do not care about your hurt feelings.


Making a grand-stand public announcement of how they did you wrong or performing any sorts of revenge acts will only hurt you in the long run.  Co-workers or other management may not know the specific details of why the break up happened but after some stupid stunt it won’t matter.  All they will remember is you were a whack-job in the end.


Who is to say that those people will always be at that company?  Maybe they will go to another, better company and that could be a possible connection for you to get into that great company, too.  Unless you make a fool of yourself and then you can pretty much kiss that opportunity goodbye.


Breaking up with someone (i.e. firing) is not easy for them either.  Once they finally say the words they then go to a very uncomfortable place.  They do not know how you are going to react, what you may do and quite frankly it is awkward.


They can’t ask you if you are okay or if you need a hug – they are the middleman for the company.  The company broke up with you and the company is still paying their salary so of course they are going to remain on the side of the company.


They are doing their job.


Leaving with grace is the best way to salvage your self-respect.  The world will not end when you walk out the door so do not be overdramatic about it – even if it was your idea.


Maybe the company treated you like crap and maybe you really want to tell that SOB boss exactly where to go – but really, what good will that do you?


Sure, it might make you feel better for a minute; but let’s think about it.  You tell them off, maybe even get a silent round of applause from your co-workers but then what?  You are unemployed and that SOB boss still has their job.  Outbursts do not change that.


If that SOB really was an SOB well than that is their burden to carry and karma will come back one day – it is not your job to help it along.  Later when you look back at the situation you will derive much greater satisfaction knowing you did not let them get the best of you by being a fool.  Leaving with grace will be much harder on them than the satisfaction of goading you into an outburst.


My son is 20 and has a very short fuse and quick responses.  Yesterday he was having a really, really bad day and he called me.  He was ready to go off in a big way for the littlest things.  Ah, the joy of testosterone.


This is a trait that I know well and have always worked on with him, and he with me.


Yesterday on the phone I told him that it is good that he recognizes his mood and that is the most important thing.  Knowing how he feels he can then avoid any situation that will spark a response.  If he did find himself in a situation in which he could not avoid he has the knowledge that he was not in the best frame of mind so he also has the power to walk away knowing that his best option is to keep his mouth shut and walk away.


He knew this, it wasn’t new; it wasn’t like I just imparted great pearls of wisdom that made him think, gee, I never thought of that, now everything is sunshine and roses.


He just needed validation for his feelings.  He needed me to recognize that he was in a crap mood and not judge or try to talk him out of it.  Talking him out of it would only fuel it; but validating and allowing him the self-control to handle it in the way he knows best allowed him to relax a little.


If you are breaking up or getting broken up with call your person in private.  Vent a little and get your validation but then walk out with your head held high so that way you can see the windows that are opening from the door that was just shut.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.