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What to Say When You Get Fired

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Getting fired is never easy, but knowing how to respond and what to say when you get fired from your job can be very important to your future career employment opportunities.

She knew things had changed between them. He seemed a little distant. He didn’t return her emails as quickly.

Even so, when her boss called her in to say it was over, she was shocked. “I just kept asking why?”

Sometimes there is no specific reason a relationship ends, whether with a partner or our bosses. Often we react by asking why, hoping that we can fix whatever is broken and make the relationship work.

When my friend got fired, she pressed her manager for answers, but all she got were vague replies. He said her work was great. He said colleagues liked and admired her. He said he just didn’t think they had the right fit.

Getting fired is always difficult. When you love your job, as my friend did, it seems impossible, arbitrary, and just plain wrong. Afterwards, she started blaming herself. Not for how she performed in her job, but in that last conversation. She shouldn’t have let him off the hook. She should have forced him to explain. Something.

Should she have said she would change? That’s the advice Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin Corp., a real-estate brokerage, offered in a recent interview with the New York Times. Kelman said when his boss wanted to fire him from his job at a previous company, he insisted he would change. His boss relented, and Kelman kept his job.

If you are getting fired, or expect you will be, it is easy to get defensive, angry, or just shut down. But in the right circumstances, you may be able to salvage your job, or at least buy some extra time. You can follow Kelman’s advice and express how much you care about the job. You will have to admit there are areas that you can improve, and commit to doing so. Kelman said he made this promise:  “I can change. Give me 90 days and if I haven’t, I’ll fire myself.”

Much depends, however, on what you are hearing from your boss. It is one thing to get a list of tasks you weren’t completing to your manager’s satisfaction or skills you fall short on. Those are things you can change. But if you are told it just isn’t a good fit, or the chemistry isn’t there, your odds of changing that situation aren’t as high. You may both be better off moving on.

Despite the emotions you may be feeling, your best route is to stay calm. Don’t just walk out the door, either. Ask questions. Your goal is to buy time. And to get the best deal you can before you leave.

If the firing has come out of the blue, and you haven’t been given a chance to improve your work, ask for a probation period. That will give you time to either salvage the situation or find a new job.

Ask about severance packages, how the firing will be communicated to staff, and how the company will handle references for you. Do your best to negotiate the best deal you can. But it is generally best not to sign off on anything. Give yourself time to process the information, the options, and even, explore legal options if warranted. Remember that in most cases the manager firing you is uncomfortable as well, so don’t lose your last chance to negotiate.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.