I lost my job a few months ago. Let me tell you what I learned.Aug 01, 2022
A few months ago, I lost my job. I wasn’t laid off. I wasn’t let go because of some colossal mistake. In fact, I have never been provided a reason for why my 16 year career was abruptly ended. But in the end, it really doesn't matter. Because the truth is, when we go through hard things, we learn a lot about the stuff we are made of. Now, let me be honest. Getting fired sucks - and I am not here to encourage you to go out and get yourself fired. But I am going to encourage you to lean in to your next negotiation – because you’ll be amazed at what you discover about yourself when you do hard things. In this article, I want to use my experience of getting fired to illustrate exactly how you can have more control in your next negotiation.
Somehow I knew it was coming
I lost my job on a Monday. A few days before, I knew something was up. Nobody was talking to me; they were just talking about me. Although he didn’t come out and say it, when I talked with my HR rep on the Friday afternoon before, I knew - deep in my gut - that I was going to get fired the next week. Sure enough, the following Monday morning, I received a request to present myself in person at the HR offices that afternoon. No details were provided, but I was encouraged to bring someone with me. If that wasn't a red flag...
A little background, first. For the last four years, I was in an executive role, which meant I was employed under a special kind of employment agreement. The details don’t matter. But I do want you to know that the agreement allowed for immediate dismissal at any time, for any reason. So they didn’t break any laws. They had the right to fire me if they no longer needed me. I knew that was a risk four years ago when my appointment came into effect; it was worth the opportunity to work on innovative projects with the smartest people across our organization. I have zero regrets about taking that risk.
Anyway, back to the story.
I prepared my plan
Once I received the meeting notice, I sat down with my journal and processed my thoughts. I had no idea who would be in the room with me, but I needed to prepare for any number of possibilities. I couldn’t imagine anything I had done would give them cause to fire me for misconduct. That said, I wondered if they had somehow kept track of the number of pens that migrated home with me throughout the years.
No, I shook my head. I had been an incredible employee. There were reasons they were terminating my employment, but they probably had very little to do with me.
As I wrote, my writing centred around one key theme: how I wanted to show up.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for tears (and I had cried a lot of them throughout the weekend). But I did not want to bring my emotion into that space. I wanted to show up with my dignity. I wanted to take up space. I wanted to own my integrity.
And I did.
I brought my husband with me, because this was happening to him as well – and I wanted him to be there with me to hear it firsthand. We both had great jobs, with good salaries and healthy pensions. We were at ease knowing that we’d be able to retire early, comfortably, and at a time in our lives when we could still enjoy travelling the world. Losing my income would affect that plan, but also our kids – one of whom is in an out of province university, and the other who has yet to start. He needed to be there and I wanted him with me for support.
I showed up on my terms
We arrived at the appointed time and were escorted to the boardroom. Ironically, it was the exact same room in which I had signed my employment papers 16 years previously. The HR rep and an assistant (let’s be honest, a witness) were already there and motioned to where I should sit.
I took my time sitting down. I retrieved my notebook and pen from my bag. I took a sip of water. And then I looked up at the guy from HR, who I had known for 15 years. I nodded, signalling him to begin his task.
The meeting was effectively done in less than 5 minutes. He handed me a package, explained that my employment was terminated effective that day, and that I would need to be in touch with a few people to discuss the terms of my departure and my pension choices. He asked if I had any questions.
Of course, I asked why.
He gave me the lines I’m sure he had delivered a dozen times before. “The employer has determined to end the employment agreement with you.” The truth was, he probably didn’t even know the real reasons for why he was delivering that news. It was just his job.
I asked for what I wanted
I asked him and the other person to leave the room for a few minutes, so I could gather my thoughts, confer with my husband, and consider if there was anything I wanted to say or ask. Honestly, I had already asked everything I needed to, and the decision was made. Asking them to leave was really just a tiny power move. I admit, I took a wee bit of joy from extending my conversation with my husband, knowing that the two HR reps were standing outside the door and waiting for me. I also didn't want to be ushered out. I wanted to leave when I was ready.
I had promised myself that morning I would show up with dignity, integrity, and – as I have always done – respect and compassion for people who are just doing their jobs. I can’t imagine how the HR rep felt that afternoon, under those circumstances. I knew he had nothing against me. But he had an order to deliver on and had no choice.
Later that afternoon, I sent him a text to acknowledge the difficult position he must have been in, and to thank him for cultivating the most dignified environment possible under the circumstances. He replied with a lot of kindness and compassion - and maybe I was just reading into it, but the message seemed to emote sadness and regret. My husband couldn’t believe it. I had texted the guy who fired me to thank him for being kind. But that’s me. I needed to honour who I am.
As you can imagine, after that conversation, a lot of negotiation took place to settle the terms of my departure. BTW if you're ever in this situation, don't call me. Call a great lawyer.
Ironically, the negotiation is the one piece of my dismissal I'm not allowed to talk about. But there is so much that I've learned about myself as a result of being terminated (I'm not sure if I'm the only one, but every time I write that word, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice in my mind. Just me?).
The parallels between getting fired and negotiating
As I have processed the experience of being fired from my job, I’ve come to see a few parallels between that experience and the negotiations I do in my business. There were a lot of things I couldn’t control that day. But by leaning in and remaining present, I was able to stay in charge of three important things:
- How I prepared
- How I showed up
- How I honoured my own needs and desires
These are three important factors that you have the power to control any time you negotiate. But if you’re afraid of the conversation, worried about the outcome, or anxious because you don’t think you’re going to be very good at it, then you're walking in to that negotiation and putting the outcome in the hands of the other person.
I don’t care how nice the other person is. If they're negotiating with you, it’s so they can get the best terms for themselves. In other words, they’re not in it for you. Just because you worry about maintaining the relationship doesn’t mean they do. Maybe you’re a people pleaser, and you think that if they like you, they’ll go easy in the negotiation. Or maybe you’re so afraid of being called arrogant, you channel humility to the extreme and don’t take the time to justify what you’re asking for.
As female solopreneurs, we need to be hyper-aware of the blind spots that sabotage us in negotiations. And by focusing on the three things I controlled in that very hard conversation, you’ll be well on your way to ditching your fear and embracing the skills of fearless negotiation.
Prepare your plan
A negotiation is just a process, where two people who want to work together (but come from different positions) discuss and trade benefits to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. If you strip away the anxiety and discomfort that comes up when I use the word negotiation, it’s pretty easy to see that preparing is just a bit of pre-work to think through what they might want, what you might want, and what you’re willing to part with.
When I teach negotiation, I encourage my students to Know your Range. What I mean by this is that you need to be crystal clear on what you’d love to get out of the negotiation (the benefits that feel generous). But you also need to know what you need to get out of the negotiation (the minimum level of benefits that would still feel like your dignity is intact). Know these two things, think through what the other person probably wants (hint: it’s not always just about the price), and you’ve got the basics of what you need.
Shape how you show up
What essence do you want to bring to your next negotiation? How do you want to feel? Powerful. Prepared. Professional. Confident. There are no wrong answers to this question. But I wonder – have you ever asked it of yourself? If you don’t take the time to shape how you want to show up for a negotiation, I guarantee it won’t be any of those things. In fact, think back to your last negotiation. What essence did you convey? Anxious? Rushed? Uncomfortable? Or did you swing the other way and try to channel a hyper-masculine vibe? Were you demanding? Obstinate? Uncompromising?
The next time you prepare for a negotiation, ask yourself what essence you want to bring to it. Pick a few words that resonate with you. Write them as “I am” statements in a place that you’ll be able to see during the negotiation. And before the negotiation, get yourself into that headspace by creating a physical shift. Go outside, put your feet in the grass, and take a few deep breaths while repeating your I am statements. Put on a playlist of confident and sassy music and have a little solo dance party. Listen to a guided meditation that makes you feel centred. You can’t control everything that happens during the negotiation. But you can control what you do in the 15-20 minutes before. Don’t leave your essence up to chance. Need more on this? Read this article on how to manage your mindset before a negotiation.
Honour your needs and desires
If you've prepared, then you’ve done the first part of this work. But honouring what you want and what you need means actually asking for it. Remember, the other person can't read your mind. If you’ve identified something that you’d love to have, you have to ask for it for them to even consider granting it. This is not the time to be humble and hopeful that they’ll just get it. This is the time to clearly articulate exactly what you’re hoping for. No demands. No ultimatums. Just your wish list. You might be surprised what they’ll say yes to.
Remember, you are each coming at this conversation from different places. They want things from you. Some of those will be hard for you to say yes to, and some of them will be no-brainers: easy yesses. The same goes for you. Some of the things you want will not be difficult or costly for them to agree to. But if you never ask, then I promise, they won’t have a clue that those things are important to you.
So to wrap this up, I’m not in any way encouraging you to go get fired. It sucks on all the possible levels. But I am encouraging you to take the opportunity of your next negotiation to lean your beautiful self in. Prepare your plan, determine how you’re going to show up, and then honour the work that you did by actually asking for what you want.