We’ve all heard about the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Does the same model work when you’ve been fired?
Let’s assume you weren’t fired because of your age, race, gender, religion, and/or sexual orientation. Let’s also assume you weren’t fired due to your own egregious conduct — you didn’t steal money from the cash register or have an affair with your employer’s spouse. So what really may (or may not) have happened is subject to interpretation.
Maybe in your frame of reference there were only four or five stages to getting fired, and maybe they weren’t in the same order as I’m describing. In any event, here’s my version:
Stage 1: Shock. What just happened?
Stage 2: Embarrassment. Everyone will find out.
Stage 3: Anger. How dare they!
Stage 4: Resentment. They’ll be sorry for making such a stupid decision.
Stage 5: Depression. Now what? I’m hopeless, useless, broke, and unemployed.
Stage 6: Introspection. Hmmm . . . maybe I should take responsibility for my part (however small).
Stage 7: Action. It’s part of my journey. Now on to the next chapter.
While you’re hiding out, fuming, bad-mouthing, and wallowing, try to look at your situation from the other person’s perspective. Who among us actually enjoys firing someone? It can’t be fun to mess with someone else’s livelihood. Take a moment to think about how you would have handled it if the roles were reversed. Maybe you as the employer/client would have given yourself a warning and another chance. On the other hand, maybe you’ve used up all your chances. On the other hand, maybe you were given messages that were vague at the time, so you didn’t pay much attention. On the other hand, there are too many other hands to consider.
Once the shock and anger have worn off, it might be beneficial to have one last conversation with your employer/client. Call it an exit interview. Ask for feedback in a non-accusatory tone as to what you did well, and what advice he/she would give you to be better in the future. Remember these words: what went well, and what needs improvement. Keeping a positive tone in the conversation will be productive in the long run. You’re there to gather information, not to defend yourself, and certainly not to humiliate yourself. Accept the feedback, shake hands, wish the other person well, and gently close the door behind you.
Whether you’ve just been fired by an employer or by a client, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether you agree with the decision. It goes without saying that if you were doing the firing, you certainly would have handled it better. In the meantime, understanding and communicating are key factors to navigating your way through these seven stages with insight and with dignity.
Congratulations! You’re about to embark on your next chapter.