How NOT to fire someone: 5 common mistakes

Unless you're a natural bully, firing someone is never fun. It is, of course, a necessary part of being a manager, and it's a skill that can be honed. The worst mistake, according to experts? Going through the motions like a robot. "Act like a human being. One day it may be you on the other side of the desk and you'd appreciate being handled like one," says executive coach John M. McKee, a former executive with companies like DIRECTV, who oversaw the hiring (and firing) of some 3,000 workers before founding his own Los Angeles career coaching practice.

Here are 5 common firing missteps, from McKee and two other executives. Avoid them, and you'll become as proficient as possible in the skill of laying someone off with respect:

Not Looking Your Soon-To-Be Ex-Employee In The Eye

One of the best ways to show respect is to make eye contact. "This is a big deal - there's another human being across the table from you and being human at this time will make a huge difference to them after they've left and recall how this was handled (perhaps for years to come)," says McKee.

Being Cagey About Your Reasons

Explaining your reasoning -- briefly -- is the fastest way to give your move to fire someone a silver lining. "You can help catapult someone's career instead of paralyze it. Helping them excel in a different environment if they don't fit yours is a gift of a real leader," says hair color expert Kelly Van Gogh, CEO and founder of Kelly Van Gogh Colour.

Being Too Friendly About It

"I once fired someone and was so nice that they didn't realize they were actually fired," recalls Alison Brod, CEO of Alison Brod Public Relations. Getting fired is tough, but you can soften the blow by making your message clear and as concise as possible. This means leading right away with your unfortunate message, and then adding any "thank you for your contributions" or "I'm sorry this position wasn't a good fit for you." Of course, this latter step will depend upon the situation.

Not Involving HR

Whether your human resources team is ever-present or stays behind the scenes, this is one time that it can often help to use your HR team. "If you can have an HR rep in the meeting with you or waiting elsewhere, it allows the person being terminated to talk afterward with the HR person who can explain things like final pay, ongoing health benefits, that will become very important to the individual," says McKee.

Not Shutting Up

After giving someone notice, give them 30 seconds to digest the blow. "Talking while the message is being processed doesn't help [and] can hinder the person's ability to get through this moment," says McKee. Finally, avoid getting into a very detailed discussion of the situation (beyond a brief explanation). "You could unintentionally say something that may come back and bite you," says McKee. Having an HR person helping can prevent you from saying too much, or too little.

More on Moneywatch:
-- Become a better manager: 14 simple tips to try today
-- 4 things a manager should never say
-- Anger management: 4 tricks for a peaceful workplace

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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