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Being fired is one of the most stressful things than can happen to a person.
So it’s completely natural for anyone going through the dreaded process to feel a range of emotions – including intense anger – which can prompt them to say or do things that they will later regret, says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and the author of “The Humor Advantage.”
“Not only is the rejection hurtful, but you may feel the action was unfair,” adds Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “Because most terminations happen without notice, anxiety about your livelihood and next move can be overwhelming. Being unable to defend yourself, coupled with the finality of the event, can quickly take you from shock and denial to anger.”
Even if you suspected that your job was at risk, there is always some element of surprise involved – and being caught off guard is when you can unwittingly make matters worse for yourself.
If you’re concerned about such a possibility, you might think strategically about how to best react after an event like this. A good rule of thumb is to pause, breathe, think, and be proactive. You may be asked to sign documents, for example, but give yourself enough time to respond appropriately, when you’re not in an emotional state.
As difficult as it is at the time, the best course of action is to try and keep a level head and not burn any bridges, adds Kerr: “Take a deep breath and err on the side of saying nothing if you feel you can’t keep control of your emotions. And definitely avoid the temptation to say any of the following.”
Here are 13 things people tend to say when they get fired that they later regret:
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‘Are you kidding me?’
That’s precisely what most employees are thinking when they get the unfortunate news, says Taylor: “That reaction suggests you’re ready for combat, but your employer, like it or not, can abruptly end the conversation right there, and you may be walked out within minutes.”
A much better approach is to take a deep breath, stay calm and focused, and try to be cooperative.
“This is not a situation you can control. But like most setbacks, it’s 90% how you react, and 10% what actually happens,” she says.
Consider how you want to be remembered on your last day by your boss, colleagues, and even your professional circle.
“The business world is getting smaller each day with the help of technology. Think about how you’d want an employee to leave, keeping mutual respect top of mind,” she says.
‘You can’t fire me because I quit!’
“This classic line makes for many memorable movie scenes, but in real life it will only make you look spiteful,” says Kerr.
In some cases, your employer may give you the option of quitting instead of being fired, and there may indeed be advantages to offering up your resignation if that deal is made. But yelling it out in the heat of the moment could backfire on you big time, he says.
“Unless you submitted a resignation letter, if you’re being terminated, it’s better to accept the news with grace and dignity,” Taylor adds. “Even suggesting that you were planning to quit anyway is an obvious defense that has no redeeming value.”
Keep in mind that most everyone has been or will be terminated from a job at some point in their life. And if your boss is unhappy with your performance, you’ll both be better off if you move on to greener pastures.
“Staying in a dead-end, stressful job with a difficult boss may offer a reliable routine,” she says. “But ‘routine discomfort’ is not good for your self-esteem, health, or your career. So your best approach is to leave behind a positive impression, as difficult as that may be.”
‘I know where all the bodies are buried.’
Making any suggestion that you are going to not only take company secrets with you, but also hold them over their heads and potentially reveal them will create a huge level of distrust and may even evoke a legal reaction on your employer’s behalf, Kerr warns.
Don’t make threats of any kind. You’ll be sure to regret it if you do.
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‘I’m not prepared to leave.’
“I’ve witnessed employees, who, after being told they were being terminated, said, ‘I can’t accept that.’ You may feel compelled to give a litany of reasons why you don’t deserve this fate. But that will just exacerbate the situation,” says Taylor.
You can attempt to get some brief insight, but unfortunately, most employers don’t feel that they must offer much detail. One reason is that it will increase their risk of legal liability if they misspeak, she says:
They may just say, “Unfortunately, this did not work out,” and explain the next administrative steps. Or, they may tell you that HR will be in touch with them for more details. In the most egregious situations, you may be informed via email; it can be that impersonal.
Your best bet is to be prepared on all levels. This is the time to put your best foot forward. You might explain that you’re saddened by the news, but appreciate all the training and experience you gained at the company.
‘But I’m so much better than anyone else on the team.’
“Turning your sights onto colleagues and taking shots at their talents or abilities will make you look petty and send the message that you never were a team player, not to mention potentially costing you any emotional support or assistance you may have got from former colleagues,” says Kerr.
Leave everyone else out of the conversation.
‘Can I talk to someone else?’
This is another form of denial, and it will only irritate your manager, Taylor says.
“It’s best to get past the disbelief and think how you can go into damage-control mode. You may be asked to give an exit interview, but this is not an invitation to establish a new battleground,” she adds.
‘You’ll regret this.’
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Never burn your bridges.
“And the last thing you want to do is threaten your manager upon your departure, intimating that you may disparage them in the industry,” says Taylor. “That can easily come back to haunt you.”
You never know if or when future colleagues will meet your former boss or management team. It’s a small world. But if you take the high road, your future career prospects will be much brighter.
Kerr agrees: “Warning your boss about future regrets can easily be interpreted as being a threat. And wishing them ill won’t win you any sympathy.”
‘I always hated working for you anyway – you were a lousy boss, so good riddance!’
“It can’t get more personal than this, and that’s exactly what you want to avoid,” says Taylor. “Getting fired is personal for you, but taking the high road is a better choice than attempting to fight back with insults – even subtle ones.”
Making a personal attack against your boss will create even more tension at a time when you might still have the opportunity to negotiate some of the final arrangements, “and making enemies of your boss can come back to bite you and damage your reputation down the road,” adds Kerr.
‘%@$! you, you $%&*!’
Don’t stoop to that level. Name-calling and cursing aren’t going to get you your job back. But they will help you burn bridges.
As tempting as it might be to drop the F-bomb at a time like this, it will only raise the temperature and make you come across as immature, unprofessional, and rude. Swearing is the quickest way to lose any favor, shut down the conversation, and might end up with you being escorted from the premises by security. Keep your emotions in check and stay professional.
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‘This place is a sinking ship. It won’t survive without me.’ or ‘Good luck with this place!’
Do you really want to be remembered as an egotistical jerk?
“It may be tempting to be sarcastic and suggest to your manager, or others within earshot, that this will be a sinking ship once you depart. But don’t take the bait,” Taylor warns.
Plus, any disparaging comments about the company will make you look small-minded and bitter, and from your boss’ perspective, it will reinforce the fact that they made the right decision by firing you, Kerr adds.
‘You were always out to get me – you never liked me and this just proves it.’
This makes it intensely personal and accuses your boss of making it personal, which is never helpful, he says: “And it suggests that you think nothing matters in your workplace other than being popular with the boss rather than assuming any responsibility on your part.”
- Clinton Steeds/flickr
This is another threat you don’t want to make – especially if it’s an empty one.
If you really, truly believe that you’ve been wrongfully terminated, then now is not the time to discuss it. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer.
“Threatening legal action will severely strain relations and get in the way of any smooth transition,” Kerr says.