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When it's time to give bad news, just say the words! An unkind story of a termination.

Giving bad news or providing tough feedback is part of being a Leader. Managers that don’t work on overcoming the uncomfortable feeling of having difficult conversations with their employees will forever be ineffective.

In my early years of management, I had to sit on what I believe was my first termination meeting. The intention was for me to start learning how the process worked. The lady that was going to be terminated had been in the company as a customer service representative for about a week and a half and she was a star new hire, learned fast, was excited to be part of the team and provided great service to our customers.

Unfortunately, something came up on her background check and we couldn’t keep her. That meant that we had to terminate her, and oh gosh, every time I think about that moment, I get a stomachache.

Her manager (Victor, for this story) asked her to come into his office. She walked with a big smile and was received with an even bigger smile. She didn’t look at me, I am sure, because she would have realized that something was going to happen by just looking at my nervous, pale face.

Victor decided to tell her how happy he was to have her in his team, how she was the perfect employee, always with a smile on her face, learning so fast and providing great service to the customers. At this point, I was so confused and thinking: “Am I in the wrong meeting?” On the other side of the table there she was, a very excited lady. She had no idea why he was telling her all that, but she was enjoying it.

What a painful experience to watch.

Then the bad news came: “We have to terminate you”. And this lady’s world went from being at the top of a mountain, looking at the sun rise, feeling inspired and wonderful to, just in a quick second, being pushed (by Victor, of course) and painfully falling down the hill.

All because Victor was too afraid to give the bad news and needed to add that “buffer of sweetness” to allow himself room to become brave.

People don’t like to give bad news. We know that, we feel for the guy.

Giving bad news or providing tough feedback is part of being a leader. Managers that don’t work on overcoming the uncomfortable feeling of having difficult conversations with their employees will forever be ineffective.

Terminate People with Kindness.

Most of the time terminations happen after consistent violations of company policy. People usually know when they are at risk of getting terminated. Still, it is a bad experience for anyone to go through.

I have led lots of termination meetings and even though I am very familiar with the process, it has never left my mind that at the end of every termination meeting there is going to be a human being left without a job.

In my commitment to share my best practices, below is the process I have followed to lead effective termination meetings. Keep in mind: This was after all the documentation had been reviewed and all the paperwork was done.

Important: Working in partnership with HR before moving forward with any termination is extremely important to ensure you are running fair and consistent practices. If you haven’t done enough to build a great working relationship your HR team I want to encourage you to start right away!

Key Steps to Take.

1) Review the Violations. Make sure the person has accumulated “as per company policy” the violations to grant termination status. In some instances, only one event could grant immediate termination (unethical practices, for example).

2) Meet with the HR Manager and plan the termination strategy. Who is leading the conversation? What do we say? When does the other one start talking? Go ahead a roll-play the conversation.

3) Meet with the employee’s manager. If you are not the employee’s direct manager give him/her the heads up and plan the exit strategy (exit as out of the building). If appropriate, have the manager sit in the termination meeting.

4) Start with “We have bad news” every time. There is no way to turn around from that one and it gives the meeting the proper tone from the beginning.

5) State the facts and close with: “For that reason we have to terminate your employment effective immediately”.

6) HR Representative shares final details. Time to show the paperwork and cover what will happen to their benefits and the options they have.

There are people that will argue, others will cry, others will be okay. Be kind, let them be upset and try not to take it personally. Wish them well and move on.

Not Negotiation Available.

In a termination meeting, there shouldn’t be a space for negotiation. The decision has been made. They might share their reasons, apologize for their mistakes, feel sorry, but at this point there is no turn around.

Have the manager walk them out to avoid as much disruption as possible.

Leading termination meetings never gets easier, and they shouldn’t. At the end of the day we are in the business of PEOPLE, which makes moments like this very difficult. Double check the facts, plan every detail of the execution, be firm, be kind and thank them for their time in the company.

Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here

Mariana Jaeger


Austin, Texas based, serving clients globally.

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