If you've ever been fired, or if you've ever fired someone, you'll probably agree that it's an unequivocally stressful experience.
Emotions run high; stress is abundant. Grievances that have been quietly simmering for months can erupt with all the subtlety of a charging grizzly bear as the fired employee figures they have nothing to lose and lets your company have it.
Such conflicts are bad for business in every way imaginable. They can be incredibly disruptive, especially if the ex-employee takes the fight online and begins pelting your company with negative reviews.
To stop the damage from spreading, follow these five steps:
1. Resist the urge to respond.
It feels good to vent. It's therapeutic. If an ex-employee takes you to task without any regard for facts or objectivity, you'll want to tell your side of the story. The impulse to do so is understandable.
Resist. Even behind closed doors, practice a strict policy of shutting your mouth. You never know when something you say in private is going to leak, which could help fan the flames and keep the controversy alive longer than if you had simply swallowed your pride and kept quiet.
2. Reach out to the ex-employee.
If all else fails, think about reaching out to the ex-employee personally. It could be that they're just hurting, and a little direct attention from you could salve their wounds. Tell them you're sorry they're upset, that you're taking their criticisms seriously, and that you want to bury the hatchet.
Be prepared, however, to have your conciliatory tone thrown back in your face. You want to brace for that because it could trigger an angry reaction if it takes you by surprise. The last thing you want is to escalate tensions with a vehement back-and-forth.
3. Ask a current employee to reach out.
Most ex-employees will have allies and friends who still work for you. Without asking them to take sides, see if they'd mind reaching out to their former coworker and requesting them to tone it down a bit.
Again, prepare yourself for disappointment. Let your current employee know that it's in no sense an obligation. Don't take it personally if they turn you down; some people aren't comfortable with confrontation of any sort.
4. Accept that an ex-employee's criticism may be warranted.
I've been on the receiving end of bad reviews more than once. Some were justified, and some weren't. One of the more interesting things I've learned in both cases is that oftentimes you can actually learn valuable lessons from your critics.
Think of it this way. As a leader, the balance of power is all on your side. An employee might trust you implicitly, yet still hold back when it comes to airing doubts about how you run the show. You might go a long time without hearing a legitimate critique of your abilities, and grow sloppy and complacent in consequence.
The same goes for your company as a whole. Even the most jaded ex-employee can have legitimate grievances; giving them a serious hearing will provide you with an opportunity to improve both yourself and your business.
5. Let it go and move on.
Some grudges run their course in a day or two; others last months, even years; and some go on indefinitely, a permanent sore spot that inflicts unhappiness and saps emotional energy whenever you pay it attention.
Life's too short for this kind of fight. If your ex-employee is unappeasable even after your best efforts to clear the air, it's time to move on.
It doesn't have to have been a completely fruitless experience--you can surely draw lessons from it that will come in handy someday. Vow to yourself that you'll do everything possible to avoid or at least mitigate such conflicts in the future, be grateful for all those employees who still stand by you, and commit everything you have to growing your business.
In the end, success is the ultimate rebuttal, no matter how loud or persistent the naysayers.