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.


Sometimes Ignoring Really is The Best Option

This is how we shareI learn a lot of lessons from my dogs.  My latest reminder lesson came from my two boys: Luke, a three year old Lab mix and Bandit, a four year old Pit mix.


I have always had dogs and I understand the hierarchy of the pack so I understand their constant need to affirm their spot in the pecking order.  In their world my oldest, Micki a 13 year old mix is the queen, followed by the 8 year old Puggle so they are basically fighting for spot number three.


And, as most young men will do, they fight. It starts with a little snarl here, raised fur there, strutting, posturing, bumping and then sometimes full out attacks.


When this first started happening you can imagine how upset I was.  Full out battles, showing teeth, biting, pinning, taking chunks of fur and flesh – it was a horrific scene.  I would first make sure the girls were out of the way then try to get the boys to stop.


I would yell, spray with a hose, do anything I could to try to stop the fight.  That hose thing – yeah, doesn’t work.  I just ended up with two beaten up, thoroughly wet dogs and a really muddy yard.  I would try and try and it would just go on and on.


After the long, drawn out bloody battle was over they would sit together and gently lick each other’s wounds.  Boys.


One day they started in my office.  I was in the middle of a resume and extremely focused so the distraction and randomness of stupid testosterone really just ticked me off.  I got up, opened my office door all the way, the boys made their way out and I shut the door.




Then a funny thing happened.  They stopped.   I hadn’t taken two steps from the door and all was quiet.  At first I thought maybe one was in a choke hold, but when I opened the door there they sat, looking up at me perplexed why they were locked out of my office.


The next time it happened we were in the kitchen.  I told the girls to get back, opened the back door, out they went into the backyard and I shut the door.  Not two minutes later there sat two boys at the backdoor pretty as a picture ready to come back in and join the family.




After all the stress they caused all I had to do was ignore it?  That’s it?  I should have known.  The more I ignored the more infrequent it became.  When any posturing would start I would just say, in the mom voice, “boys do you want to go out by yourselves?” and they would stop.


Apparently it isn’t as much fun if there is no attention.


Too often we give attention to that which upsets us the most.  This only fuels it and makes it worse.  Any attention is too much attention.


We need to learn to open the door, let it out, shut that door and get back to what we want to focus on.


We can’t always stop the irritations, frustrations and minor inconveniences; but we can control how we react to them.  Sometimes the best thing is to recognize the signs then open the door to let it go.


You cannot control other people’s (or dogs) actions but you sure can control how you respond.  Giving them attention was actually rewarding that behavior.  Ignoring it lessened the impact.


Stop rewarding bad behavior.  Start defining what you will and will not tolerate.  I love my dogs and could not imagine my home without either one; however, I will not tolerate aggressive or bad behavior.


Someone once suggested I might need to find a new home for one of them and the thought is unimaginable.  They are my dogs, this is their forever home and you don’t throw out a good thing for a bad behavior.  You learn to work with it, compromise, tolerate or sometimes just ignore until you find that happy medium.


Once you learn how to stop the bad behavior it is important to remember the good – recognize, reward and appreciate.  When they sit or snuggle together I always make a point of telling them how good they are, pet and love on them both at the same time affirming that they each have a spot in the pack, no matter what their number.


They are rewarded for playing nice and I am rewarded with two loving pups who serve as protectors, brothers and faithful friends.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.



Too Attached To The Outcome

WorrySometimes we want something so badly that we focus on the ultimate outcome rather than the steps to actually reach that outcome.  Bad idea.


There are other times that we are almost afraid to hope for the thing we want the most so we attach ourselves emotionally to that outcome and completely ignore the things that are happening around us right here right now.  Bad idea.


I’m a planner and an analyzer.  I will admit it.  It is a critical skill as a mother.  You always have to anticipate for your children.  Going to baseball games and wrestling meets I always had the “bag”.


It was full of requirements for any occasion: sunflower seeds and gum for baseball; beef jerky and granola bars for wrestling; band aids; Neosporin; washcloth and baggie; black tape; pencils; sun block (baseball); the boys deodorant (they really stink at wrestling); rain poncho; ace bandages; you name it – it was in the bag.


I never had an occasion where I had to use every item in the bag.  It was for preparation but the tools were only used on an as needed, in the moment basis.


Going after that gig you really want is the same thing.  React on an as needed, appropriate in the moment manner.


Focus too much on how much you really want the job and you may miss an important statement in a follow up interview.  They may be giving you clues on how to further align yourself with the job but you are only wanting to hear the words, “We want to make you an offer” that you miss it.


Wanting that job so badly can also make us start to doubt ourselves.  Maybe you have been excited about another job as much but that one ended badly so your fear starts to warp that excitement and equate it with failure.


It is a different company, a different time, a different opportunity and a different you.


That’s like really liking someone but being afraid to get close because the last time you felt this way about someone it totally blew up in your face.


Different person, different time, different opportunity and a different you.


Do not punish the new person for the behavior of the old one.  Same rule applies for the job, too.


Let go of the emotional attachment and look at right here, right now.  Are you in continual talks with this company – great – what is really being said?  Is it in line with what you want, perfect – go for it.  Let go and just go with it.


If you find yourself overanalyzing each action or statement (and trust me, I get this) just stop.  Let go of the emotional part and look at it as a whole.  They are interested as are you so just let it progress to a natural course of coming together.


I have found that things happen for a reason in their own time in their own way and it is not my job to know the why or try to fix it.  My job is to look at the here and now and what I can do to add value.  If it is meant to be then for crying out loud let it.  Stop getting in your own way and let it happen.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.