As a business leader, firing an employee may be the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. "You don't sleep well the night before. You're not supposed to," says Jen L'Estrange, founder of outsource HR firm Red Clover.  

But, she says, if you want to handle the firing in the best way for everyone involved, there's one important thing you must get right: No matter what the reason is for the person's termination, make sure they leave the meeting feeling valued, and that they've been treated with respect.

"People don't remember what was said; they remember how they felt when they left the room," L'Estrange explains. "They are losing their job, but you don't want to devalue them as a human." This is just as true, she adds, for someone being fired because of egregiously bad behavior as it is for someone you're letting go because of a budget cut. In every case, you want the person to feel they've been treated fairly and with dignity, because you never know where they'll wind up. You also want your remaining employees to feel that employee was treated with fairness and compassion. 

If making a fired employee feel valued and respected is important, how exactly do you do that? Here's L'Estrange's advice.

1. Practice, practice, practice.

Even after 20 years of experience firing people, L'Estrange will still write out the script for every termination conversation. She has often rehearsed these conversations out loud. Some people prefer to go over the script carefully so that it's clear in their minds. Either way, L'Estrange says, "There's something about practicing the day before it happens that helps set it up for success."

2. Follow this three-part formula.

For L'Estrange, every successful firing follows a three-part format. There's a very quick introduction -- no more than a sentence or two -- that says how we got here. For example, if you're firing someone for cause, it might go something like this: "We've had a number of conversations about what's going on, and it just isn't going to work out." If someone is being let go due to business changes or economic conditions, then the intro might be a sentence about the business changes causing the termination. In both cases, she says, the idea is to quickly provide some context for what's coming next.

Once the brief intro is over, get right to the point: "Today is going to be your last day." In the United States, she says, a terminated employee is usually asked to leave that same day, even if they will continued to be paid for some period of time.

The last item in the formula is to tell the employee in general terms about next steps. And while the actual notice of termination should come directly from the person's immediate supervisor, this last piece of the conversation can be handled by an HR representative. Unless the employee asks, don't go into detail, L'Estrange says. It may be hard for the employee to absorb much information. Instead, make sure they know whom to contact later on for answers to their questions. And that's it. In many cases, the conversation might last ten minutes or so.

Whatever you do, she adds, make sure the employee understands that you're communicating a decision that has already been made and is not up for discussion. Sometimes employees try to negotiate, promising to make changes or asking whether they could take a different job at your company. You need to communicate clearly that this won't be possible.

3. Keep the focus on the employee.

However difficult it may be to tell someone they're fired, it's always much harder for the person hearing the news. "Once we step into the room, it's not about us. It's about the person who's receiving that message," L'Estrange says. "It's our job to show up prepared and to make sure we are maintaining the focus on the goal of communication and delivering a message that person is able to receive."

As famously happened with the crying CEO, leaders may have trouble managing their own emotions around firing someone. "It's not that managers want to make it about themselves, but they're struggling to manage the emotions around delivering the message," L'Estrange explains. But if those emotions spill over during the termination conversation, you're being unfair to the person being fired.

Runaway emotions can be a particular problem for those who don't have much experience firing people, L'Estrange says. But even after you've fired people many times, it will always be a tough thing to do. "It doesn't get any easier. You just get better at it."