Firing Without the Headache or Heartache

It is Friday afternoon and you call John Thompson into your office. You have had numerous talks with him in the past, but today is the one you dread. Today you need to tell him he is fired. This is quite possibly the worst part of your job, the part that stresses you out the most. And you think, "Wouldn’t it be nice if he just quit and I didn’t have to do this?"

Is there a way to fire people that doesn’t make them defensive? Are there techniques you can use that will make them choose to leave without hating you or the company?

Yes, and it is NOT by following traditional firing methods. I will show you how to communicate so the other person either takes accountability for their actions and changes or chooses to leave.


Here is why traditional firing methods DON’T work. There are two common approaches to firing.

The first approach is the SOFT APPROACH. This is where you really hate to lay it on because you know the other person will feel awful. So you try to point out the good they did and soft shoe the fact that you need to fire them. You might even end up with them consoling you rather than the other way around.

The second approach is the HARD APPROACH. This is where you have pink slips, you have documented everything, and you tell them straight out. You don’t try to cushion the blow. You just want to get it over with. You might even have an escort come to your office, take the person to their desk and have them gone from the building within a couple of hours.


With the SOFT APPROACH (feelings based) a person feels like they let you down, that you don’t believe they understand their lack of competency, and that you feel they failed. This causes them to either become emotional and overwrought or to become defensive. Many will leave your office and try to sort things out. However, many times they only remember the positives you said and then turn around and sue the company because they were wrongly let go.

With the HARD APPROACH (fact based) a person feels like you don’t believe they have any capabilities, that you feel you are better than them, that you don’t believe in them as a person, and that you feel they are a "problem." This leads to the person being defensive right off the bat. They will argue with you or sit glumly through it all. Most likely they will go back in their mind and build a case to sue the company by displaying what you DID NOT do to support them in their job.

In either situation, you will most likely end up with a headache, and the person being fired will end up with a heartache, which they will try to solve by attacking you.

"Your goal is to have the person be accountable for what is happening and to either accept it or change the situation. Either way they own the situation, not you."


There is a third approach. With this approach you use OUTCOME FOCUS®COMMUNICATION. Here your goal is to have the person be accountable for what is happening and to either accept it or change the situation. Either way they own the situation, not you.


  1. ADD VALUE TO THE OTHER PERSON. This means they need to feel that you believe they have talents, passions, and skills; that they can apply these in the right situation and be a success; that they are in control of finding the right situation for them to explode those talents; and that you believe in them as a person and want them to be happy. This requires BELIEVING the best in the other person.
  2. FOCUS ON THE OUTCOME, NOT THE PROCESS OF HOW TO GET THERE. In firing, this may sound silly because firing is all about the process. But here is the problem: when you spend all your energy on HOW you will fire the person, you become defensive in your approach. The focus moves to WHY the other person should be fired and WHY they should listen to you about it. When you focus on the OUTCOME, you move to WHY they should be accountable for their career, their actions, and their happiness. It is no longer about you at all; it is about their choices.
  3. COME FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE, NOT YOURS. This is the hardest. You clearly know why you want to fire them and why they should be fired, but what is their perspective? Why are they not applying themselves? With firing, it is important that you focus them on moving forward, not on looking back, as forward will be more proactive.

Let’s take our example of firing John Thompson. We’ll take two scenarios.

SCENARIO ONE: The first will assume you have one more chance with him. Here is how you would apply all three steps.

  1. ADD VALUE "John, it is important to me that the people who work for me are excited about their jobs, love coming to work, and bring all their passion and skills to the job each day."
  2. FOCUS ON OUTCOME "I don’t see that happening with you. So my question is, is this the place where you want to be? Is this the place where you can bring all of your talent, passion, and skill every day? Only you can answer that. (pause) Do you need some time to think about it or do you feel ready to answer that now?" Let the person respond. Here is the part where they will either choose to leave because they are not happy at work or where they will need to commit to making changes.
    a. THEY WANT TO STAY. "Great, then let’s look at what it takes to show passion, talent, and skill at work each day. To me, it means that people will take on extra projects and that they will do what it takes to make the team work. They actively participate in meetings and all work is turned in on time. Currently you arrive 15 minutes late to meetings, you act disgruntled when you are asked to do any extra work, and your work is usually turned in late. Talk to me about your ideas on how to change those things. What do you need from me to make it happen?"

    Make them ACCOUNTABLE for their choices and what they need to do to fix it. Show them you believe they can handle it. Before they leave your office, recap EXACTLY what was agreed to and then FOLLOW UP on a weekly basis so they don’t slip back.

    b. THEY WANT TO GO. "I completely understand if you feel this is not the place to best use your skills. We all need to make sure that we find the spot where we are happiest, and this doesn’t seem to be it for you. Let’s chat about how to best go about ending this for both parties."

SCENARIO TWO: You have to get rid of John today whether due to downsizing, lack of skill, or because he is a bad apple.

"John, it is important to me that the people who work for me are excited about their jobs, love coming to work, and bring all their passion, talent, and skills to the job each day. That’s not happening with you. We have had numerous talks about this and we are now at the crossroads where the talk has to end. John, today is your last day of employment here."

Then lay out the legal aspects of what will happen, whether your company is giving him severance, what his last official day is, and when he needs to have things cleaned up. DON’T GO in to what he did well, as this will give him false hope and make him angrier with you in the long run.

Firing is hard on both sides, but unfortunately, it is necessary sometimes. The best you can do is help the other person realize that they are in control of their destiny, they have choices to make, and they can choose to make different choices in the future so this doesn’t happen again.

As the leading Outcome Strategist, Anne Warfield shows people how to say the right thing at the right time every time.  The revolutionary Outcome Focus® Approach shows how to build a candid corporate culture of communication that allows you to lead, present and negotiate transformationally rather than transactionally. When applying Outcome Thinking® our client’s results include sales cycles reducing by 75%, turnover reducing by 30%, silos evaporating, and a 25% savings of time by executives.  Find out how you can maximize your corporate culture for greater productivity and results!  Contact us at 888-imp-9421, visit,  or