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Park Your Emotions: Getting Redundancy Meetings Right

Park Your Emotions: Getting Redundancy Meetings Right

Where do most redundancy programmes fall down? Dynami’s recent survey of HR professionals resoundingly agreed: COMMUNICATION.

Corporate communication is, of course, extremely important. However, this article is going to discuss how to deal with the one-to-one communication that HR and line managers so often get wrong.
But why do we get it so wrong? It is not our intention to leave the “at risk” employee feeling even more rejected and dejected than before. I believe it is so often handled badly because it is a difficult conversation that invokes great emotion on both sides. We feel guilty about communicating this negative situation that will have a great impact on the individual. We feel resentment towards the business as perhaps we do not agree with the business case that we are having to communicate.We feel awkward, scared, nervous.

Those of you that know Transactional Analysis (TA) will know that, when you begin a conversation (transaction) in an emotional state, the corresponding response will most likely also be emotional. The redundancy conversation is one that could easily get into a “Parent to Child” dynamic where HR / management come across in Parent mode which triggers a Child response in the at risk employee. Imagine how a child might respond to being told it’s no longer wanted in the group. They may throw a tantrum or become very withdrawn. These might sound like familiar responses to some of you. One thing is for sure, the employee will no longer be processing information in a logical way.

So how do we make sure the employee can process information logically during the meeting? The clue from TA is for you to stay in “Adult” state. That means logical and fact-based. Even if the employee is responding emotionally, you must keep responding to them logically. Eventually, they will start to move into their own “Adult” state. This is because it is difficult to remain in the emotional state when someone is responding to you with logic. You are enabling the employee to start processing what is happening rather than sending them into “amygdala hijack” (more later).

Let’s have a look at a personal example when I was on the receiving end of this conversation. My line manager started the meeting with “Ali, you don’t know how difficult this is for me.”  Wow.  Imagine my response.It was certainly emotional. I felt anger, indignation, fury, injustice, disbelief. That one comment sent me from feeling tense and uncertain to a full-on fight, flight, freeze response.

What had happened was that I had gone into full on amygdala hijack. This is when the brain is no longer sending information to your logical, thinking brain but has retreated into its primitive threat response mode. The rest of that meeting is a haze and I have no idea what he said to me after that sentence. His one opening comment took me straight into a heightened emotional state where I could no longer reason or hear logic.

So, how could he have kept us both in a logical and fact-based place? Perhaps his opening line could have been “Ali, it’s a real shame that the business is in this position but let’s discuss how we can support you through this.”.

What is different in this opening sentence? Most importantly, it’s about the situation not his feelings. “It’s a shame” is a logical statement rather than a display of emotion. “Let’s discuss how we can support you” is a practical suggestion. As the employee, I may still be feeling tense, but I am also probably feeling some relief that there is a way forward and that I will be supported through this tough time. My logical brain is probably starting to wake up and listen and, if the line manager, is able to stay in “Adult” throughout the meeting, I will probably leave the meeting knowing a bit more about what happens next than I did in reality.

3 Top Tips

  1. Train, prepare, rehearse: because these meetings are emotional, it is difficult to stay in your Adult state. The best way to mitigate any slips is to prepare your facts and rehearse these conversations. Also, make sure that line managers are trained, prepared and rehearsed too!
  2. Don’t be a robot: whilst focusing on staying with the logic, don’t allow that turn you into an automaton with no empathy. You can still be warm and considerate whilst not being emotional
  3. End well: don’t forget that our brain remembers how things end, not how they begin. Make sure that the meeting ends on a clear and factual note and that the employee has taken the information in.

If you would like to talk further about how to best handle these one-to-one redundancy conversations, please do contact me: I’d love to chat!

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