One of my colleagues was one of those cold-hearted corporate executives who, at one time in his career, had to lay-off several thousand people in one fell swoop. Too bad he wasn’t cold-hearted. It sickened him, he dreaded it for weeks, and the night before it went down he didn’t sleep a minute. Layoffs stink on all sides of the equation.

You may end up having to be the messenger in these situations. The HBR points to several key approaches is “How to Tell Someone They’re Being Laid Off.” Some of the key points include:

  • Don’t have the first time be the first time: practice the conversation before you go in, and do that practice with someone who can give you solid feedback.
  • Get trained: if the company’s training is, “say this, do that” and the training is over in 15 minutes, you’re not ready. The outsource company your corporation is likely using will probably help you if your HR department doesn’t.
  • Keep your troubles out of it. The person doesn’t care if this is hard for you. Right now, all they care about is what they are facing. Be fully attentive to that.
  • Do it as you would want it done. Assuming you’re somewhere in the bell curve and not on the ends either way, how you’d want it conducted is the same as they want it: as painless as can be, respectful, no patronizing, and they want it over.

When you’re finished, take some time for yourself. You just communicated news that fundamentally altered someone else’s life. Restore yourself to your grounding, address any emotions you have, and square yourself for what is next. It may be another unpleasant conversation – do not start that one calloused to what it takes to be who is needed for that conversation to go as well as it can.

Knight, R. (2015, June 26). How to Tell Someone They’re Being Laid Off. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

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