Kerrying On

Thanksgiving: Our Second Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving is an interesting phenomenon. It always comes in at number two in the holiday popularity polls, just behind Christmas. That’s a pretty high ranking when you consider how humble the holiday is. It doesn’t come with the ghoulish decorating or the fun-filled house-egging that we enjoy every Halloween. It doesn’t come with the raucous parties of New Year’s or the exhilarating explosives of Independence Day. And yet, year in and year out, Americans rank Thanksgiving as their almost favorite holiday. If aliens were to beam in from another galaxy and look in on earthlings bowing their heads at a table, they would surely conclude that this group’s gathering had all the makings of a funeral.

And yet people love Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. For years, I assumed it was the scrumptious food that gave the holiday its appeal. Our family’s chefs, mostly women (as was often the case in the 50s), competed to see who could prepare the best dishes, so the food was always spectacular. The men competed for the title of “Biggest Eater,” creating a susceptibility to heart disease and diabetes that has been a family tradition for decades.

And don’t forget the fun and lively debate over which foods should be included in the sacred meal. There are always some dishes that are falling out of fashion. My parents fought over who got to eat the turkey giblets. (Shiver—gag.) My grandparents adored mincemeat pie, my mom and dad liked it, and we kids never even gave it a taste. After all, it is called mincemeat pie.

Then it struck me that neither food nor food trends give Thanksgiving its charm; it’s the gratitude the holiday inspires coupled with the time people spend together that makes the day so special. Of course, our family spent time together during all of the major holidays, but Thanksgiving seemed to offer more “quality time.” Here’s where it gets tricky. As everyone knows, time is measured by planetary movements and resides in some weird fourth dimension that can’t be understood by anyone who doesn’t carry a slide rule. Fortunately, quality time is easier to understand—or so says my neighbor. According to him, quality time is any time spent with loved ones on the beach at Maui.

I think he’s onto something. At our house growing up, we’d finish eating the Thanksgiving meal embarrassingly fast and, since nobody wanted to help with the cleanup, we’d quickly escape to various corners of the house where family members would talk in small groups until three hours later when we’d repeat the cycle. During all this conversing we’d enjoy what I consider to be genuine quality time. We’d engage in the art of conversation across generations. For example, one Thanksgiving, while keeping a safe distance from the kitchen by hiding with Granddad in the den, I asked him what the scariest thing he had ever experienced was. I asked him this particular question because I was thirteen, he was seventy-seven, and talking about my crush on Mouseketeer Annette Funicello seemed out of the question.

Grandpa then shared what he called “a real hair raiser.” Once, while crossing the country in a railroad boxcar (“It was legal back in those days,” he explained), he and three strangers were rumbling along minding their own business when two of them suddenly broke into a knife fight and the larger fellow killed the smaller one. From there, Grandpa vividly described how he and the other non-fighter subdued the stabber and ended up serving as star witnesses in the subsequent trial.

“They didn’t have a hotel in the small town where the trial was held,” Grandpa said, “so they put us up in the town jail and fed us homemade meals prepared by the locals who treated us as celebrities.” Grandpa went on to tell the fascinating details of this experience while I hung on his every word.

We alternated telling stories of this nature while playing cards. When gathered around a card table we still talked, but the tenor and tone of the conversation changed dramatically. Adults and pre-teens alike engaged in rapid-fire patter where everyone practiced the art of bluffing, teasing, and wisecracking. Kids even picked up a few social skills along the way. I remember Mom once called Dad a “dirty rat” when he stuck her with the queen of spades. I called my grandma a “dirty rat” for doing the same thing and quickly learned that not all expressions were suited to all people.

These kinds of educational and bonding conversations went on for hours every Thanksgiving, turning the holiday into a Patterson family favorite. I suspect this is true for most people who hold a similar gathering. But I wonder how long this popularity will last. I fear that Thanksgiving conversations might be decreasing in popularity, just like the once-beloved giblets and mincemeat pie. With the rise of tweets, texts, and posts—along with all the fun to be had playing video games (where talking is largely replaced by thumb moving)—only time will tell whether electronic equipment will diminish the art of conversation, and along with it, our beloved Thanksgiving.

This I know for sure. Our fourteen grandkids will arrive at our home Thanksgiving Day toting all manner of smart phones and other gadgets that will appear on the surface to be a lot more fun than talking with an old codger such as I. Our home is also loaded with gaming platforms and big-screens that might appear to be a much faster pathway to fun than conversing face-to-face with people who don’t even tweet. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to do what it takes to keep Thanksgiving high in the holiday rankings. I have a boatload of engaging anecdotes and clever remarks at the ready. I hope the same is true for you. And if I need to, I can bring in the heavy artillery. I have a story that illuminates how at age fourteen, my buddies and I were almost eaten by sharks. It’s a real hair raiser.

Influencer QA

Living with a Hoarder?

Dear David,

My husband and I have been together for about five years. While I noticed his tendency for piles around his own place prior to our marriage, this propensity has gotten much worse since we have been married. I’m no neatnik, but there is an uncomfortable level of clutter in our home; I have to walk around several stacks of stuff just to get to our bathroom. How do you confront a hoarder that you otherwise love and respect?

Drowning in My Own Home

Dear Drowning,

As I began to read your note I was imagining the messy housemates my wife and I have had over the years. But then you used the word “hoarder,” and described yourself as “drowning in your own home . . .” You are obviously in a much tougher spot than I first thought—and with someone you love. My heart goes out to you.

A Pack Rat or a Hoarder? I want to start with this distinction. If your husband is a pack rat, he can be reasoned with. He may want to hold on to things, and may need some time, but he has perspective. He’ll have some prized possessions that he won’t want to lose, but he won’t become anxious or emotional about losing the less important items.

However, if your husband is a hoarder, he will become anxious and feel threatened by losing anything. He won’t have a sense of proportion between more and less valuable possessions. Another clue that your husband is a hoarder is the impact on your home. If hallways and rooms no longer serve their normal function—if the stacks of stuff make it hard to get around—it indicates that your husband is a hoarder.

Hoarders Need Professional Help. Hoarding is commonly associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and requires treatment from a mental health professional. Professional treatment often combines medications (SRI—Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and cognitive behavior therapy. The success rate of this combination of treatments is quite good.

Getting a Hoarder to Treatment. How do you get your husband to admit his problem and agree to enter treatment? I’d suggest an approach called Motivational Interviewing. This approach recognizes that you can’t give your husband a “motivational transplant.” You can’t give him your motivation; he has to develop his own. The key to success is to create a safe environment where your husband can explore his own motivations for changing.

Below are three principles you can use to create this psychological safety:

• Ambivalence is normal.
• People have a right to make their own choices.
• Nothing will happen until the person is ready to change.

I’ll illustrate Motivational Interviewing with a technique Michael Pantalon uses in his book, Instant Influence. Ask your husband a question similar to the one below:

“How interested are you in getting some professional help? Rate your interest on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not at all interested and 10 means very interested.”

Make sure he gives you a number. If he responds with a 1, then ask what it would take for him to give it a 2. This gets him to tell you what he needs before he’ll be ready. The most common answer will be greater than 1. If he picks a 2 or higher, then ask him why he didn’t pick a lower number. This gets him to reveal that he does have some motivation to get help. Make It Safe for him to explore the reasons behind this motivation. Often, he will begin to convince himself of the need for change.

Use All Six Sources of Influence™. Our research here at VitalSmarts shows that change is far more likely when you combine multiple sources of influence. While I would not use our Six Source Strategy instead of professional treatment, I think it can be a powerful aid. Think of ways you can apply all Six Sources of Influence to help your husband change.

• Source 1—Personal Motivation: Get your husband to describe long-term goals for your home and your relationship. Then encourage him to see how his current behavior won’t get him to his own goals. Emphasize safety and autonomy; he needs to own this change project. Seek to build engagement and a collaborative focus.
• Source 2—Personal Ability: Work with your husband to establish guidelines for what the house looks like and when a possession will be relinquished. Remember, the more he is the one creating the guidelines, the more he will own them. Create these guidelines up front instead of making a separate decision about each possession. Begin with guidelines for the least-valuable possessions, and then work up to more controversial items.
• Source 3—Social Motivation: Avoid setting yourself up as a nag. Instead, get your husband to agree on days and times when he will clean up areas and reduce possessions. For example, he could set aside a half hour every Wednesday at 8pm. That makes the calendar and the clock the cue, instead of putting it all on you.
• Source 4—Social Ability: Work together. Be a coach, not an enforcer. Let your husband make the decisions, and then you can take the actions—such as donating, selling, or discarding the possession. Make it as easy for him as you can.
• Source 5—Structural Motivation: My wife and I use the simple rule that we can’t bring something into our condo until we get rid of something else to make room. A rule like this can create rewards for getting rid of things.
• Source 6—Structural Ability: Work with your husband to create a checklist he can use to track and monitor his progress. This checklist could include “no stacks on the floor, no broken items in the house, etc.” Make the items as specific as possible so little judgment is involved.

I hope this is helpful. Your husband needs you now more than ever.

Best Wishes,

Crucial Conversations QA

It’s Not Poor Customer Service, It’s Silence that Costs You

I used to share a poem at the beginning of some of my speeches. I won’t tell you what it was out of respect for its author. I loved the poem. I felt that my recitation of it was a big hit. I thought it was clever, funny, and relevant to my topic. Apparently, I was alone in my opinion. After sharing it in over one hundred speeches, someone finally corrected my thinking. In that short, crucial conversation, my colleague suggested I leave poetry to poets. I did, but cringed for weeks as I reflected on dozens of experiences when I had been filled with glee while thousands of others were exercising tolerance.

My feeling of embarrassment around this poem—mixed with gratitude for the colleague who finally leveled with me—could be compared to the emotions felt by a service industry employee. An employee who, maybe even absentmindedly, is giving less-than-ideal customer service and has no idea how he or she is coming across to the customer. Until his or her coworker speaks up.

Our VitalSmarts research team just finished a study about customer service that suggests far more of us ought to be feeling embarrassed for our organizations. We asked participants how often incidents occur when someone witnesses an employee underserving, or even abusing, a customer. Then we asked, “What happens?” In your organization, does the employee go on delivering their terrible poem? Or does someone speak up?

I thought of this study as I boarded a discount airline flight. I paid an extra $50 for a “premium” seat, selected palatial 11C with four inches of extra legroom, and pulled the lever, anticipating being lavished with five degrees of recline. Instead, I dropped fully backward into the lap of the man behind me. As the flight attendant passed me she said, “Oh yeah, that seat’s been busted for a long time.” No apology. No offer to find me another seat or make up for it in some other way. Rather, I suffered the torture of zero recline for the next two hours.

How many broken seats and bad poets undermine service in your organization? And how long do the problems persist because those who witness them say or do nothing?

Our study showed that each employee who witnesses bad customer service, but fails to speak up, costs the company an average of $54,511 per year. We also found that organizations can recoup those costs by creating a culture where employees feel empowered to speak up and confront incidents of poor service—even if it’s up the chain of command!

Shockingly, only seven percent of employees can be counted on to speak up when witnessing an incident of poor customer service—despite the fact that 66 percent of us say we are capable of solving the customer’s problem.

Additionally, we found that:

• A typical employee witnesses 19 poor customer-service incidents per year.
• Together, those incidents result in a 17 percent drop in revenue annually per customer.
• Poor service negatively affects the business a customer does with a company by 50 percent or more! This is the case for 75 percent of business-to-consumer (B2C) customers and 42 percent of business-to-business (B2B) customers.

We’re facing a ‘crisis of silence’ in the corporate world; people simply don’t hold others accountable for their actions. Our research over the years shows how silence affects costs, quality, engagement, productivity, safety, and now customer service. The key to creating distinguishing customer service is to create a culture where anyone can speak up to anyone about our ability to serve the customer.

Leaders must set the example. They must make it safe for people to hold these uncomfortable conversations. Otherwise employees tend to assume leaders’ egos are of higher value than the company mission.

I got my dose of feedback seconds after soliciting it. The colleague and I were at lunch. I said—almost offhandedly—“So, is there anything I can do to improve my presentations?” After an awkward pause she said, “Well, there is this one thing you do . . .”

It’s hard to calculate how much customer goodwill VitalSmarts gained because of that one conversation. Sure, I felt a bit of embarrassment. But what I received in return was well worth those few minutes of discomfort.

Join my friend and coauthor David Maxfield to learn some powerful tactics and skills that will help you create a culture that truly puts the customer first and ends the crisis of silence.


Crucial Conversations QA

Delivering Tough Performance Feedback

Dear Joseph,

I have an employee who has previous job experience as a manager but who took an entry level role to get into a full-time position with our company. This employee has been making progress learning our company’s policies and procedures and initially showed a great interest in learning as much as possible.

More recently, this employee has become distracted. She turns in work that has been completed half-heartedly. She makes small mistakes that are obviously due to a lack of effort. Now she has applied for a management role in the company. I don’t feel comfortable recommending her based on her current poor work. How do I reenergize this employee? I don’t want this person to feel this is a reprimand—because she hasn’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire her to kick it up a notch and prove she is ready.

Struggling Coach

Dear Struggling Coach,

This is easy! Your last paragraph gives me great hope that your heart is right where it needs to be. You aren’t angry. Your motive is not to punish. It sounds like you want to be honest in your recommendation. You are a person of integrity. And you also want this person to succeed.

Ninety percent of the time ninety percent of our difficulties in crucial conversations are not skill problems but motivation problems. We feel angry, scared, or hurt by others’ behavior and our motive degenerates to wanting to blame, be right, punish, keep the peace, etc. I don’t hear any of that in your question.

So here’s a tip—you already know what to say! When I ask people, “What fears do you have about this crucial conversation?” the words flow freely. They say things like, “I don’t want to hurt them,” or, “I don’t want to lose our relationship,” or, “I don’t want them to think I am angry with them.”

Then I ask, “Okay, so what do you hope happens as a result of the conversation?” Again, they wax poetic and their well-formed thoughts take verbal wing! “I want them to show up on time for meetings,” or, “I want them to succeed.”

We are often like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; we’re already wearing the very ruby slippers we need in order to get home. You’ve just got to look down to see them. Your ruby slippers are in your last paragraph. Imagine starting your crucial conversation with this person by saying something brilliant like, “I’ve got some feedback I want to share with you. May I? I don’t want you to feel reprimanded—because you haven’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire you to kick it up a notch and prove you are ready.” What a great opener! It’s vulnerable. It’s honest. It’s caring. It has everything you need to start your crucial conversation.

Oftentimes, all you need to do in order to help people feel safe is share what you do and don’t want to have happen in the conversation. If your heart is in the right place, you’re off to a great start.

I wish you and her the best!


Kerrying On

Kindergarten Divas

When my daughter Becca prepared to teach kindergartners for the first time, she came to me for advice. Given that the students I had been teaching for the past thirty years were in grad (not grade) school, I told her I had nothing of any use to her (no news there).

“Imagine,” Becca said, “that I’ve taken a sacred oath to ‘first do no harm.’ Now what advice would you give me?”

Without giving it a second’s thought I answered, “Don’t let school chew the students up and spit them out. Don’t let the competitive environment (where kids vie for your attention) pit the students against one another. Don’t let right and wrong answers leave some kids feeling smart and others not so smart.”

“How about teaching the curriculum?” Becca asked, “I’d think that would be my first priority.”

“If a child learns the curriculum, but comes to believe he or she is unable, unworthy, or unskilled, then it will have come at a great price. School experiences, like it or not, play an enormous role in defining a child’s self-image—their expectations of who they are, what they can do, and who they’ll become.

“So Becca” I continued, “my advice would be to take special care. With every letter you teach and every number you introduce, make sure that you transform ‘giving the wrong answer’ into ‘taking part in a learning journey.’ Then, find methods that help each child excel and gain confidence.”

With that hopelessly condescending piece of advice hanging over her head, Becca walked into her kindergarten classroom. I had told her what to achieve and what not to achieve, but I hadn’t given her a smidgeon of advice on how to achieve it. I didn’t know how to achieve it. That was her job to figure out.

Two months later Becca invited Louise and me, along with her students’ parents and other family members, to “An Afternoon on Broadway”—a musical revue performed by—you guessed it—Becca’s kindergartners.

“I followed your advice,” Becca explained when Louise and I arrived. “I wanted to help each child gain the confidence to not only sing and dance with his or her classmates, but to willingly perform a solo. And guess what? Everyone volunteered for solos.” One look around and you could tell that the parents were far more nervous than the kids, who appeared surprisingly calm as they filed into the cafeteria and took their places on the risers.

As the cafeteria lights went down and the crowd hushed, Becca pounded the piano while thirty kids burst into singing, “Give My Regards to Broadway.” At key points throughout the number, a child would step out from the chorus and sing a stanza or recite a verse—with astonishing force and confidence.

I quickly realized that as delightful as the performance was going to be, half the fun was in watching the parents as their kids took the spotlight. They nearly burst with pride. Their children didn’t mumble their parts. They didn’t stare awkwardly at the floor. They didn’t giggle, stumble, and clam up. They boldly spoke their pieces and sang their songs as if they’d been on stage their entire lives (all five years). And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the kids took turns stepping to center stage and dancing a jazz number. I though their parents were going to explode with enthusiasm.

What made all of this singing, dancing, and reciting so extraordinary wasn’t merely that each child deftly performed a solo, but that they had done so while coming from ordinary backgrounds. True, this all took place at a private school, but most of the students came from families of moderate means. Several took two buses to get to school. About half of the children spoke English as their second language and did so with parents who were just learning English themselves.

The audience members leapt to their feet as the show came to an end and the applause thundered through the cafeteria. Finally, as the last “Bravo!” was shouted, the kids ran to their families where they were hugged, kissed, and praised.

And then something happened that I hadn’t anticipated. “Are you Miss Patterson’s mama and papa?” a woman asked as she approached my wife and me.

“Why yes,” Louise answered.

“We’re the Parks,” the woman continued. “We moved here from South Korea two years ago and feared the day Sammy would go to school. He’s small and shy, so we worried that he would get lost in the crowd. We were wrong. At first he was nervous about going to school, but every day he came home more confident and stronger than the day before. And then today—he sang, danced, and recited a poem—all solos. We would never have believed it possible!” Then the tears came. Both parents were overwhelmed. They went on to thank us for raising such a wonderful teacher—not merely someone who covered the topics (which she did magnificently), but someone who had also made each child feel admired, capable, and confident.

Once the word got out that Louise and I were Becca’s mom and dad, parent after parent approached us to express their pleasure in seeing their kids blossom in school—not only in the assigned subjects, but also in self-assurance. They were shocked when their child took to the cafeteria stage like a seasoned member of SAG. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it myself.

None of this happened by accident. Becca had taken to heart the admonition to build the children’s confidence right along with their academic performance. She loved and respected each of her students, and coached them to success. As the children succeeded in, say, math, she gave them one more gift. She didn’t poison their thinking by telling them they were good at math. She told them they excelled in math because they worked hard at math. That way, when they found math to be difficult one day (and they would), they’d figure if they worked harder they’d succeed. Children who are told they are good at math or music or whatever, when they eventually face challenges, tend to back off and figure they aren’t so good after all. When you focus on the fact that the children are succeeding because they’re working hard, this tactic eventually leads to resilience, confidence, and creativity.

Becca also aimed her “You worked hard” discussions at children who showed an ability to work and play well with their peers (an important but often ignored skill). When kids started to argue or got in a tiff, she taught them interpersonal skills (using role-plays), with special attention to kindness and respect. And when the kids eventually learned how to solve interpersonal problems in a kindly and respectful way, she explained that it was because they had worked hard. Because they had worked hard.

And so had Becca.

Crucial Conversations QA

Bosses Behaving Badly

Dear Joseph,

I have an issue with my boss. She often talks to me about my colleagues. I have asked her not to do this and she has apologized but continues to complain to me about their performances. Recently, I discovered that my boss said something negative about me to my direct report. I did not address this with my boss and now I carry resentment and have totally lost trust in her. I don’t want to leave my job because I enjoy my work as well as the people I work with. I have worked very hard to get to this point in my career. My performance review is coming up and I’m wondering if I should bring this up. If I do, how should I approach this? I appreciate your feedback.

Can You Hear Me?

Dear Can You Hear Me,

I’d like to ask your permission to talk with you the way I would talk with myself. Please don’t mistake an abundance of candor for a lack of care. You have been wronged by your boss. She is behaving badly. She has undermined your trust. All of that is true. And none of it will help you move forward. In an effort to be helpful, let me speak plainly.

Of course your boss is talking behind your back! If she gossips to you, then she will gossip about you. You shouldn’t be surprised.

You are carrying resentment because you have made yourself a victim. You have done so in two ways. First, by declaring a boundary (that you don’t want to hear gossip) then expecting her to be responsible for it. She is not—you are. If you declared your expectation that she not gossip to you anymore and you let her do it again, the problem from that point forward is not her, it is you.

Second, you’ve made yourself a victim by allowing her to wrong you by gossiping about you—then doing nothing to take care of yourself. You made the statement, “I did not address this with my boss but I carry resentment and have totally lost trust in her.” A more accurate representation would be, “I’ve totally lost trust in myself.”

It is ultimately your responsibility to take care of yourself. When someone is abusive to you, if you do not stand up for yourself then the problem is not just them, it’s you.

Here’s the principle: Resentment is a product of violated expectations. Your expectations are your own—and it is your responsibility both to make them clear to others and to take care of yourself when they aren’t met. I am not absolving her of responsibility for violating your very reasonable and ethical expectation. That is her problem. She has squandered her trust with you and it is up to her to restore it—if she wants a good relationship with you. But protecting you from her bad behavior is your responsibility.

You say that you don’t want to leave your job. And that’s fine. But realize that by choosing to stay you are choosing to continue to have a relationship with someone who is likely to continue gossiping. Don’t blame her for that. She has already shown you what to expect. If you choose to stay, you choose to endure the gossip. So stop resenting it. Instead, ask yourself what you will do to cope with the reality you have chosen.

For example, you might:

1. Set an expectation with her that you will confront her every time she gossips. Be clear with both her and yourself that you are doing this not to try to control her behavior, but simply to stand up for yourself. Perhaps over time it will help her change, but you had best not bet on it.

2. After you confront her, let it go. If you continue to feel resentful, it is because you have begun to slip back into the role of victim, making her responsible for taking care of you. Resentment comes when you impose expectations on her rather than on you. Once you have fulfilled your obligation to yourself, you’ll feel more accepting of her imperfections. You’ll be able to live with her imperfections because you are living with integrity yourself.

3. If problems escalate, reconsider your decision. If her gossip escalates, or her behavior becomes intolerable, don’t slip back into being a victim. Maintain your responsibility to take care of yourself. Stop and ask, “What do I really want?” If the job becomes less important than your own quality of life, it’s time to go.

I have spoken plainly—but please know that I understand what it is like to feel mistreated. You have every reason to feel that way. I hope these ideas help you to escape those feelings soon!


Crucial Conversations QA

How to Handle the Fallout of Letting Someone Go

Dear Emily,

What is the best way to announce that someone has been let go? We’ve had five departures in the past eighteen months that weren’t handled well. Communications ranged from non-existent—the person just wasn’t there anymore; to confusing—a new org structure was presented and someone who should’ve been in the meeting wasn’t there. Nor was there a box for that position on the new chart. This is a group in which people care for each other and there are hurt emotions when someone leaves. Is there a better way to handle this while respecting the rules of confidentiality?

Looking for Closure

Dear Looking,

Some years ago, I let an employee go. I’ll call him Sam. Sam had been with us for many years and was a well-integrated part of the team. Even more, he had social relationships with several other people on our team. I knew that letting him go was going to raise concerns.

I met with Sam late Tuesday afternoon and we worked through the details of his termination. Early Wednesday morning I sent an e-mail out to the team announcing Sam’s departure and wishing him well in his future endeavors. I made sure people knew who to work with on the team with regards to Sam’s projects. And I invited people who had questions to come by and discuss them with me.

One of Sam’s close colleagues took me up on the offer. As we talked, she commented, “this was just so out of the blue.” I responded, “I am so glad to hear that!” I could see she was a bit taken aback by that so I quickly explained. “We have a process for working with employees when we have identified performance concerns. It is a process we follow with every employee and is focused on coaching and improvement. Unfortunately, sometimes even with coaching and other support strategies, we aren’t able to close the gap and we have to let someone go. And I am always glad to know that it seemed ‘out of the blue’ because this means that we were appropriately confidential about these performance gaps as we worked through the process. I want people on our team to know that if there are ever performance concerns with them, we will address them and work through them. And we will do so without letting other people know.”

I’m sure it’s clear from this example that I am not the perfect manager. There is plenty to dissect in the way I approached this. But I am a concerned people-manager who deeply cares about those who report to me and the culture of caring we have on our team. I’ve learned that helping your team transition through the unexpected departure of a coworker is a crucial moment for a leader. It is a moment that has a disproportionate impact on how people see and relate to you as a leader. You can talk a lot about respect and caring and the importance of the team, but if you handle this moment poorly, it won’t matter how many other, lesser moments you have handled well.

So, here is my advice: live your values. At VitalSmarts, we value respect and candor. Balancing these two values is the key to navigating the aftermath of an employee termination. You need to demonstrate respect for the person who has left while balancing that with the candor your employees need from you.

Demonstrate respect for the person you have fired by keeping confidential matters confidential. In an effort to reassure employees that they are not at risk, it may be tempting to give too many details and explain what performance gaps led to termination. Don’t do this. Instead, help people understand that you respect confidentiality, even when an employee has left.

Balance this respect with candor. People will always be able to tell when you are playing the confidentiality card as a way to get out of difficult conversations. Be forthright and proactive. Your team should hear from you that someone was let go, not from an org chart. Communicate early and often. If your team is large, consider sending an e-mail to make the first announcement rather than telling people one by one as your schedule permits. Make sure you block time on your calendar to be available after the announcement for people to ask questions. And if they aren’t coming to you with questions, go to them and check in.

Finally, I am not an HR professional. I don’t even play one on TV. There are, however, many HR professionals who read this newsletter and I hope they will join this discussion on our blog. Consulting with your HR partner is a critical part of handling all aspects of employee termination, including announcing to others. Your HR business partner can give you guidance as to what you can and cannot share with others. From there, it is up to you how to frame it in a way that is congruent with your values.

Good Luck,