I had to fire someone today. I’m not going to tell you why because I’m discreet and professional as hell. Suffice to say that my NOT telling people the reason she was fired led many of my colleagues to believe that the person had been fired over pizza.
I can see where they’re coming from. The firee hates the boss. Her hatred had slowly escalated due to a series of sessions wherein her unacceptable behavior had been outlined along with expectations over how it might improve, and how we may best help facilitate that. But that’s not how the story reaches the outside world. The story reaches the rest of the office via texts, misinformation, and misplaced indignation. “She’s being so UNREASONABLE,” the story goes.
This is when you check yourself. Maybe you ARE being unreasonable. Maybe you haven’t been clear about expectations. Maybe you’re being kind of a bitch.
I’m not shy about letting people know I’m out of patience. Putting one over on me is not an option. When I sense BS, I rise to the challenge. “You can read a clock, can’t you?” are words that may or may not have recently left my mouth.
They aren’t without precedent. But free of context, like right now, they’re harsh, unapologetic, and decidedly impolite. And second-hand, when the receiver is someone you like, it’s even worse. Things like this make it easy to believe that I’m unreasonable. It makes it easy to believe I would fire someone the week before Christmas over pizza.
At the same time, understand the context. People are hurt. People are defensive. People are scared.
If I were the boss of these colleagues I would speak to them individually. I’d reassure them that their job is not in jeopardy over something insignificant, praise their recent work, remind them of how valuable they are to the team, and thank them for their contribution.
I am not the boss of these colleagues. I am the colleague of these colleagues. Instead I receive tight smiles, accidentally stumble on whispered conversations that immediately cease, and drop by the office of the head of HR who tells me that in spite of what people are saying, I did the right thing.
How do you fix it? The benefit of the doubt would be appreciated, but that would require admission that the firee, their friend, may have done something wrong. And their evidence is me, doing things like handing back a pile of papers saying, “Don’t give these to me with stickers” which is meant as distracted instruction but is interpreted as bitchy and rude.
You can’t give them an explanation because firee is deserving of dignity and respect. Even saying something vague like, “There are more factors you aren’t aware of” is disrespectful and petty. All told, this isn’t about you. Blatant attempts to redeem yourself will dissolve what little goodwill you have left.
If you’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, while you contemplate how to make amends someone will arrive at the office with a delivery. You will be the first person to inspect the delivery. The delivery will be a holiday basket including beer. You will open the beer. You will take a stack of cups from desk to desk, pouring free beer. It will be 2pm and you will have officially sanctioned office drinking. You will be pretty sure it isn’t within your authority to do so. But if you can fire someone over pizza, you can raise morale through beer.
The pizza incident won’t be forgotten. But maybe this is one step closer toward redeeming yourself.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go set up conference room for beer pong.
Melissa Dylan is a writer and MBA who maybe shouldn’t drive home right now.