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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

How to Deal with Angry Farewell Email

I was recalled an old story when one of my past employers (quite a big company) was hit by viral message – a farewell message from one of salespeople. He ranted about all things which were far from OK in his eyes. If you asked me I’d say most of that was true. Of course it went public as it was intended to go public. The word was spread extremely fast since this kind of things always spreads fast.

I’m not going to judge anyone who vented at the very end of his work, since everyone decides on his own whether to burn bridges or not. Personally, I was tempted at least twice during my career to do the same. And at least once I’d have really much to say. I wrote simple “goodbye and thank you” instead.

A thing I’d like to talk about is how to deal with the situation when someone does it. There’s one simple and powerful technique.

Do nothing.

As a manager or CEO or any other Very Important Person you can do virtually nothing about that to make the situation any better. A vent isn’t a starting point of discussion. It is, well, a vent. The author doesn’t try to exchange opinions about the job. The best you can do is to let the thread die as soon as another newsy thing would happen and people would start to talk about something else.

Of course you can try to discuss or comment that, which makes the thing worse. First because you show that there’s some truth in the vent. OK, there usually is much truth in this kind of emails but if you want to do something about the problem better do, not talk. Treat it as valuable moment of truth which doesn’t happen often in your managerial job. When someone doesn’t care, he’s either completely drunk or is enjoying his last minutes of job and he’s going to tell you whole truth since he doesn’t care anymore whether you cut his bonus money or not.

Second, you show that you take it personally. If it hurts your ego it means the vent was on target. Among other things it was aimed to hurt you. Discussing it publicly puts you in bad light since you confirm there’s something wrong in how the company is organized.

Third, you make people talking about the thing longer.Hey, have you heard what our manager replied for the last vent?” It wasn’t meant as a discussion. It wasn’t meant as a thread. You have virtually no reason to make it one or another.

If you see a vent against you it delivers a couple of messages:
– There’s something seriously wrong with the company you work for
– There’s something seriously wrong with you as a manager

If someone told you these things in other form you wouldn’t go discuss it publicly, right? It would be a much better choice to think what’s wrong with the company and what’s wrong with management. And try to improve things a bit. Of course as far as you care.

in: communication, team management

4 comments… add one

  • Mike Ramm March 24, 2009, 12:28 am

    Great point, Pawel!
    It is always better to do something and to talk to your people before they quit and send such emails.

    When the guy sends that letter it is intended to burn bridges. So let them burn peacefully and don’t play with fire. Later, when the emotions are cooled down, you can rake up the ashes and make some conclusions. And you should.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 24, 2009, 12:54 am

    Unfortunately people rarely treat this kind of vents as a signal that there’s something wrong. They either focus on the form not the content or doesn’t care at all. Either way I’m yet to see a situation when angry farewell email will change things around.

    Which is by the way one of reasons to avoid writing them.

  • Craig Brown March 24, 2009, 3:44 am

    Possibly there is another viable option.

    Acknowledge the problems and do something about them.

    That’s what I’d do if I were the manager of the disgruntled person.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 24, 2009, 3:56 am

    A question is: have you ever seen this kind of reaction for a farewell vent? Personally I don’t.

    If there’s a reason for someone doing that something must be completely screwed and many people see it. Managers should be aware of the problem and they don’t consider it as an issue so they won’t do anything about that, maybe except posting occasional (and stupid) response.

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