“Five Killed During Disciplinary Meeting.”
We have all seen the headlines. Violence is a growing problem, and leaders are on the front line at work. While we can’t make it all go away, we can offer expert advice you can use to keep yourself and your people safe when confronted with a dangerous termination.
- Trust your instincts. When you believe something is wrong … something probably is wrong. Take extra steps to protect yourself.
- Know what to watch for. Each case should be evaluated against a set of known violence correlates (see website listed below).
- Prep for the interview. The single most important thing in this regard is to control your own emotions. Feelings of fear or anger are normal responses to such a situation, so it is best to accept and manage them through preparation and breathing. Strive to be kind, caring, and firm.
- Have the right people in the room. Generally, we believe the manager’s manager and an HR representative should be present in a termination interview. This practice provides one level of separation from the person most often targeted and an opportunity for the subject to feel like someone with power over his boss is getting any message he wants to relay.
- Choose the right timing. While this is not the most critical consideration, it still matters. If a subject is dangerous, getting them out of the building sooner is better. Make a plan that includes shutting down the subject’s building and network access. Ideally, this would happen during the final interview. For someone who works a standard Monday-Friday schedule, we generally recommend conducting the termination late Friday afternoon.
- Choose the right location. In most circumstances, the best place to conduct a termination is a conference room near the exit. In this way the employee can leave the meeting and walk directly outside to their car without walking past a line of people staring at them. It may make sense to have their personal items packed and ready to go in a nearby room. If possible, a conference room with more than one entrance is ideal. If that’s not possible, consider a set-up as shown in Fig. 1.
- Respond properly to threats. It’s important for a terminated employee to feel heard. Give the person chances, even encouragement, to speak. Unless they take off on a lengthy rant that appears to be escalating, don’t interrupt. Let the subject finish.
There are basically four possible responses when confronted with a threat during the interview, three of which are wrong:
- Ignore it.
- Show fear: “My gosh, did you just threaten me?! Yikes!”
- Get angry: “Oh yeah, Buster? Just skin that smoke wagon and see what happens!”
- Downplay and redirect to the future.
That final option is the key. Even if you’re scared half to death, say things like “I know you didn’t mean that. We all say things we don’t mean when we’re angry. That’s not the John Smith I know.” Next, point them back to the future with “You’re going to get past this. It won’t be long until you find a spot to fit in. You’ve been through hard stuff before, and you will get through this, too.” and similar reassurances.
- Get the subject safely off the property. This is an area where a fine line exists between safety and dignity. In our work with clients, we’ve let people walk back to their desk alone, gather their belongings, and let themselves out. Yet in different circumstances, we’ve monitored a former employee’s egress with two trained protection professionals only steps away.
- Monitor and reassess as you go. Just because the employee has driven away does not necessarily mean “we’re all safe now.” What you may not know is that there are always warning signs of an attack. Always. We must get in a position to watch for them and correctly interpret their meaning.
- Do the right thing now. No one ever regrets asking for help to prevent violence. Not asking always leads to hard questions no one wants to answer. Be the kind of leader that has no regrets. Call for help when you need it.