Should You Behave (Well) When You Get the Boot?

The  Quora question was phrased differently but the thought was the same.

Fuck sign, not directed at anyone!
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Should you behave (well) when you get fired?

Like many things in life –  true whether you’re the CEO and/or founder, or the guy/gal handling the mail – it depends.

Here’s 4 things to consider:

What’s your goal? While it can feel good to tell people off, is it going to help you or hinder you? Sometimes going gracefully is the better bit of wisdom, but sometimes going out the door taking a chunk or two out of someone’s armor is the course to take.

While Clarence Thomas sits as a member of SCOTUS, people still remember Anita Hill’s courage in telling her tales of sexual harassment by Thomas and not going quietly into the night.

Even though they were resignations as opposed to a firings, Greg Smith of Goldman Sachs very public departure letter and James Whittaker’s account of why he left Google are examples of someone having something to say – and not all good – as they walk out the door.

There are times though when sitting quiet is the smart move, and perhaps if you’ve got lots of emotion toward being fired, the wisest move too if you take a long-term perspective.

People have lousy memories. You only have to look at the voting habits of people in this current (Republican, but it could have just as easily been Democrats) US election season to know that most people don’t remember the dodgy pasts of many of the candidates. Same is often true in business and the not-for-profit world; unless you’ve done something pretty serious (think embezzlement) folks have a convenient way of overlooking past sins if you’ve got the special sauce they need to hire for their open job.

What’s your brand? The easy-going straight shooter who says out-of-character comments as he walks out the door is going to be regarded differently (and likely with a greater truthfulness) then the person who channels their inner Rush Limbaugh to blow people off on a regular basis. Character matters, and as a recent client mentioned to me (“You were right; once I said that the job was different from advertised the interviewed nodded, said ‘I know what you mean’ and kept on with the conversation”), people cut you slack if you’re a good, decent person.

Are you doing anything you’ll regret later? Life is short, and frankly there’s little need to do stupid things that will kick you in the butt later; alienating co-workers, offending valued clients, or confirming everyone’s suspicions about who you really are.

George Herbert’s line – “living well is the best revenge” – has more than a grain of truth to it; if it were sand instead of truth, it would be the whole beach.

You can also take solace from some people, like Steve Jobs, who have had great comebacks after they’ve been sacked. It’s not such much fun feeling like you’re being exiled to Siberia, but time, a little perspective, may change things.

So should you behave well if you’re being fired? It depends; the best answer is the one that works well for you.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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