JEFFREY TOBIN: Ready, aim, fire
I remember the first time I had to fire someone. I was a young manager, and firing an employee was a fearsome event. Still, I recall having a surprising sense of satisfaction after having done the ugly deed. But it wasn’t because I enjoyed actually firing someone.
It’s funny how some memories stay clearly inscribed on the surface of the brain. This incident happened decades ago, and yet the palpability is still as real to me as your breath is to you. The employee, “Monica,” stood at the bottom of the stairs located outside my office door. With her hands in the pockets of her bell-bottomed jeans, she glared at me. For reasons I won’t explain here, it was time for her to be gone. Apparently she thought so, too.
“Monica,” I said, “will you please come up to my office?” She replied, “No!” “Excuse me?” I blurted. “No!” she cried. “You’re going to fire me!”
Suddenly I vividly recalled the Wizard character in Disney’s “Fantasia.” His long white beard and deep, mysterious eyes betrayed his dark and limitless power. On his head rested a tall, wizardly cap festooned with stars and a crescent moon.
I was he. In my mind’s eye, I threw back the sides of my flowing cloak and slowly raised my arms. My white-gloved fingertips glowed. Shards of crackling blue lightning sped toward Monica. In a twinkling, I’d destroyed her livelihood, and possibly, her entire occupational future. My chest heaved. How dare she think I couldn’t fire her from across a continent, let alone a mere staircase! The impertinence!
Finally she stomped grudgingly up the stairs. One. Step. At. A. Time.
Earlier I told you I had a real sense of satisfaction after I took Monica’s keys and sent her on her uncertain way. What gave me that satisfaction was the method I employed, not the act of firing her.
Before meeting with Monica, I sat on the other side of my desk, pretending I was the one being fired. In my own envisioned firing, I was treated with respect.
Focusing on the tasks that weren’t being done properly — rather than my ineptitude — protected my pride. When the time came to fire Monica, I focused on the issues, not her inabilities. In fact, I made a point of emphasizing her skills. I offered to help her find suitable employment, and to help her with her resume.
My satisfaction came from addressing the problem from the perspective of the other person.
I was confident I’d done as much as I could to aim at the issues, not the individual.
When you face a challenge or conflict with another employee, ready yourself with this approach. Take aim at their actions, but protect their dignity. This is how you will retain your own.