Harsh Words for the Terminator


Her message was harsh. She called me pretentious, finger-pointing, judgmental and a liar, someone not worthy of the position I have in life. Even worse, my character is so terrible that she was able to reach this conclusion in less than three weeks. As mean and untrue as her words were, they were not unexpected. They were sent to me by an employee I had let go the day before.

Her response reminds me of why I hate firing people. I want to be known as a good person, a man of compassion and kindness. When it comes to terminating someone there doesn’t seem to be any good way to do it, merely degrees of bad. Human resource experts have told me to not worry about how the person feels and to say nothing more than “It’s not working out,” but I feel as if people should know why they are losing their job.

While this particular employee hadn’t worked for me very long, it had become clear to me that she was not going to succeed in her position. She tried hard it seemed, but she lacked the skills required for the job. I was ready to let her go a week earlier, but instead decided to give her a very frank performance review. I told her that if she was not able to rapidly and dramatically improve that she would not be able to stay. The warning didn’t help. She didn’t improve at all, leaving me with the difficult conversation. I thought long and hard about what to say when the time came and even prayed about it several times. I ultimately decided to take the Human Resources approach, figuring that the conversation of a week earlier should have been enough. I got to the office early so as not to embarrass her in front of others. I told her that things weren’t working out and then handed her final paycheck to her. It was awkward.

I received the angry text message the next day. I read it several times. I knew I was not the person she described, but I found myself wondering if I had done anything to validate her impression of me. In pains me to admit it but I can see how she arrived at her conclusions. As I reviewed some of the conversations with other employees I had in her presence I could see how a person lacking context, who did not have a history with me, might misconstrue some of the things I said. As a new employee she lacked such context and, choosing to trust her initial impressions, decided I was a bad man.

It was hard for me to judge her for her words. I can think of many times when I have acted in the same way. Too often I have confidently judged others based on first impressions and limited information. I shudder to think of how many people I have hurt in this way. I wish I had been less trusting of my opinions, kinder and more gracious in my interactions with others.

While I will not have the chance to prove to her that I am not the person she believes me to be there is still something I can do in response to her words. I can make sure I do not repeat the same mistake. Just as importantly, I can be more aware of how I am perceived by others who do not know me well. I can do my best to place my words in context, aware of the potential for misunderstanding.


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