Firing a good friend is never easy and it doesn’t get that much easier no matter how many times you do it. The first time I had to fire a buddy was over twenty years ago and we’re still really close on Facebook so although you often lose friends that you have to let go, it doesn’t always happen (not least because they’ll hold out a faint hope of being re-hired). So while it doesn’t get much easier, over the years I’ve picked up a few things that can at least make the act of firing a pal go a lot smoother and empower you to go through with it.

1. No such thing as “best practice”: Well this one speaks for itself. Don’t be taken in by books or websites or HR gurus telling you that there’s a best way to fire your friend, there isn’t. Not only is every situation different but every friend is different, so take each case as it comes and concentrate on the idea of good practice, not “best” practice.

2. Remember it’s not your fault!: Sure, you may be the one who made the ultimate decision to fire your friend but if they know that you’re charged with monitoring their performance and they’re not doing the business, meeting targets and out-performing peers, then what does that say about their respect for you? This person clearly doesn’t value your friendship all that highly or they wouldn’t put you in the position of having to do this? Ask yourself the question, would they do this to their own child? No? Well then what makes them think they can do it to you!? You must refuse to take the burden of guilt that they’re trying to put on your loyal shoulders.

3. Fire friends on a Monday, never a Friday: This one I had to find out the hard way! Most companies will do their firing on Friday, preferably Friday afternoon to minimize the possibilities for disruption. This is especially important if the company is notifying the staff member of contract termination weeks or months ahead, and wants to give them a couple of days to calm down. So it makes sense, most of the time, but not when firing a friend. The last thing you need is to fire a pal on the Friday and end up running into them on the ninth hole on Saturday morning or at some kid’s birthday party in Chucky Cheese on the Sunday – all before he or she has had a chance to calm down and start blaming himself for everything instead of you. So you’ve got to do the friend-firing on a Monday, Tuesday at the latest, so they have the whole week in the office to calm down before you risk a combustible social situation at the weekend.

4. Be angry, not sympathetic, at least until they apologize: While I don’t like to force you hand, and as I’ve already said, there’s no such thing as best practice, you should strongly consider the benefit of appearing angry, or even better actually being angry, with your friend when you’re firing them. This will allow you to maintain control of a situation that you normally don’t need to worry about losing, but are now more vulnerable to because of your closeness to the person you’re firing. Normally when firing someone, it’s choreographed and scripted to make you sound logical, empathetic but just a little dispassionate. With a pal, this could blow up in your face as your friend will justifiably expect to see some emotional response from you and will probably hope to see you conflicted. The big danger is that either wittingly or unwittingly you display sadness at having to fire them, as this will make you look weak, thus empowering them in the meeting and (nightmare scenario) giving them hope that they can somehow ‘talk you round’.

5. Practice, practice, practice: That’s right, just like with people you don’t really care for, it’s vital that you spend adequate time in front of the mirror getting this right. Don’t trust your spouse, or any other friend, with this news, so don’t practice with them. Just lock yourself in a room with a mirror or video recording device and practice firing your friend over and over again until it’s the most natural thing in the world. The important thing here is to really take the chance to look at yourself and assess what your body language, tone and facial expression is saying. I once got my HR manager to do this (you’d think he’d know better!) and he only then realized how his voice would rise over an octave in tone when he was firing former military people (and we were manufacturing mini humidifiers – pre-Lehman Brothers btw. – so there were quite a few of them).

6. Never pass an opportunity for professional development: No matter what you do there’s always a chance that after firing a friend you’ll go home that night and feel bad, or conflicted, about the whole thing. You may even wonder what it was all about and whether there was any point. So bear in mind the affect that all of this is having on your personal development. Regardless of whether you are taking it in your stride or suffering in some way, you are professionally developing every single day, and this day was no different.  Focus on the personal positives, not the collateral negatives, that’s what marks out the winners!

7. Think strategic!: The one thing I haven’t mentioned so far is that I myself (yes, me!  Trent Meyerson) was once fired by a friend. But you know what? I didn’t mind at all. Why? Because that s.o.b. taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. It turns out that he’d found out a while before that he was going to have to fire me, but rather than rush into it and, god help us all, “get it over with“, he took his time and weighed up his options. A week later he called me into his office and told me I was going to have to fire a friend of mine, that it was hard, but that we all had to do it sometime. Like a good lieutenant I did as I was directed and fired my buddy Dave. Afterwards my boss/friend asked me how I was doing and I told him just fine. A week later it was me getting a call to come into his office and the old dog gave me the bad news. Now that’s a strategic thinker and you could do worse than follow his example, although I’ve often wondered if Dave was just an innocent by-stander in the whole thing, a pawn sacrificed in a game he would never comprehend. Rest in peace old buddy!

Well, how about you? Anybody out there got something to add?

Advertisements