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by SixFigureStart | April 08, 2009


When she was laid off from the job she loved at a media company last fall, one marketing executive went for drinks with her friends to drown her sorrows and find a little solace. She and three-quarters of her department had been fired — and on top of that, she had just signed a lease renewal, including a rent increase, on her Manhattan apartment.

“Don’t you have six months of rent saved?” asked one seemingly well-intentioned friend. The marketing executive nearly fell off her bar stool.

In the hours after a friend or family member is laid off, the last thing they need is an inquiry, as well-meaning as it may be, says Lora Sasiela, a New Jersey-based social worker focused on career issues.

“Consider how your loved one endured a crisis before. What helped or did not at that time? Use your history with them as a benchmark for how to support them now, listening carefully above all.”

With this in mind, certain topics and catchphrases never seem to help the freshly fired. Force these into early retirement!

“God has other plans for you”

Brett Weller’s parents said this after he was fired from his manufacturing job in Philadelphia in late 2008, allegedly “for swearing.” He called his parents to laugh about the situation. Instead, they got all religious – simply reminding Weller of how his near-atheism, and now joblessness, distanced him from his family.

“It’s probably for the best”

We’ve heard tales of job-losers’ parents saying “Now you have time to find a boyfriend,” or spouses asking “So when do we foreclose?” Don’t do it.

For Teri Slick — assistant dean at the college of informatics at Northern Kentucky University until June 30 – the comments have been sweeter, along the lines of “something better will come of this,” and “it’s probably for the best.” But it’s still not much help.

Jamie Showkeir, co-author of Authentic Conversations and an organizational consultant, explains that instant, optimistic responses are “a kind of manipulation.” “Statements like ‘Don’t worry you’re a talented person,’ or ‘It’s probably for the best,’ ignore a real need that a person will have in the face of a job loss to grieve and let go of their old professional identity” he says.

Instead, try neutral empathic statements like: “It really must be difficult to face this situation. I know how much you care about your work.”

“Those bastards”

Leave this talk in South Park. Surprisingly, it won’t help to bash a friend’s former employer the moment they’ve been laid off, says Wendy Kaufman, CEO of executive training firm Balancing Life’s Issues in New York. “We have a tendency to say ‘That stupid company!’ Or ‘That stupid boss, they’re all idiots,’ in a kind of sympathetic anger when a loved one loses their job. But going to an insulting negative place about an employer they may have loved at one point can backfire, and cause both self-pitying and anger.”

“What happened? What did you do?”

Gail Golden, a management consultant at RHR in Chicago, cautions strongly against asking questions that in any way imply a friend or loved one is to blame for their job loss. Statements like “What happened,” “What did you do” or “Why didn’t you…” are socially inappropriate and defensive she says.

“When we hear about someone losing a job, and they are close to us, we will subconsciously think something like ‘if it happened to them it could happen to me.’ “ Golden explains, “The temptation is to relieve ourselves of this anxiety by saying something that implies we’re better than they are, even if it is subtly with a question.”

“I know just how you feel”

Do not say this. It’s basically a self-centered statement.

“Everyone is having very different reactions to what is going on in this recession right now,” says Balancing Life’s Issues’ Kaufman. Adds Golden, “Talking about your own predicaments can add to a person’s stress – now you expect them to listen to and feel sorry for you!” There is a time and place for sharing your stories – later on.

“You should apply to grad school!”

Giving advice right away to someone newly unemployed is the equivalent of sitting a widow down to look at Give them time to grieve their loss, several management psychologists suggest.

Specifically, eliminate phrases that contain the words Should, Always, Never or Must, from your empathic vocabulary says Dr. Wendy Kaufman, because each of these words implies a concept of the teller being better than the listener.

If your friend does ask for advice, consider telling them you can talk about all that when they’ve had time to process.

--Posted by Lora Kolodny,

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