Delivering bad news is no fun in any situation, but when you're the person tasked with delivering bad news in the workplace, it can be more uncomfortable. The truth is, however, that bad news is a part of life, and if you're the professional who has to break such news, you may find yourself in an awkward position. After all, if a family member dies, people typically have supportive family members around with which they can discuss the experience. Likewise, the person breaking the news is not often seen as the "bad guy"... instead, they are seen as someone who ended up having to complete the task.
Firing is different than laying someone off. For example, laying someone off means that you are giving that professional hope, realistic hope, that he or she may rejoin the company. In many cases, it's temporary. Firing someone, on the other hand, is a pretty permanent situation. If you have to fire someone, whether it be due to performance issues or something else, it needs to be quick and gentle. Yes, you will look like the "bad guy", but you are also doing your job. No one likes being fired and no one likes the task of firing, but try to make it as bearable as possible. Give an explanation to the best of your abilities, and please don't leave a fired employee hanging. At the same time, make sure that it's clear that the separation is final, lest the employee find some way to beg or play on emotion.
Who Becomes the Bad Guy?
In many cases, people who take on the role of the "bad guy" are professionals who rise above, Essentially, if you're tasked with breaking bad news, it should be seen as a credit to your character, not a detriment. It takes a lot of guts and nerve to be the person who has to look an employee in the eye and calmly explain that he or she is no longer needed. There is also the possibility that the employee will freak out, cry, sob, or go through any other number of emotional changes when faced with the news. The individual responsible for carrying out this task should be looked upon as stable, sincere, understanding, and a counselor.
Coping with Being the Bad Guy
If you've been chosen, or if you've volunteered, to be the bad guy, a smart idea would be to not only decompress when you get home, but also to speak with a professional about your experiences. Seeing another human being in distress, such as after losing a job, can wear on you. Consider talking with a therapist to let out your feelings. In fact, your company may pay for such services in full. Don't hold back, don't feel judged. Talking with a counselor can be a great way to help you work through current problems, resolve past issues at work, and make you feel better about future talks you may need to have with employees who are being fired or laid off.
Andrew Rusnak is an author who writes on topics that include career development and human resources counseling.