by Achim Nowak

Don't Forget the Professional GOOD-BYE

June 1, 2020

Start of June. I have been subsumed by my anger about the killing of George Floyd, the history of similar events, my anxiety about the political unrest in cities across the US.

Amidst all of this turmoil, Frank and Lynda, two clients of mine, have left old jobs and are starting new ones this week. Their acts of departure are, in a way, part of the “old normal.” When done well, a departure is a truly exquisite ritual that honors how very deeply we all are impacted by those we work with, every single day.

Yes, saying good-bye is part of the dance of life.

In these times of social distancing and remote work, it’s tempting to skip the good-bye part. Don’t. A loss is a loss. If you work in the corporate world you have likely attended a program about how we move through change. You’ve seen a slide about the emotions you may experience when there is a loss, whether we view it as a loss or not. The emotional change journey, as taught in corporations, is based on the wisdom and books of Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross (On Grief and Grieving and On Death and Dying).

Yes, it was “just” a professional relationship. And yes, feelings will kick in. Saying good-bye is not a simple transactional moment. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge a loss. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the rich encounters you and I had. Even if what we had was not always easy or friction-free.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts you may wish to consider when it is time for a professional good-bye. This I know – you will have many opportunities to apply them in the months and years to come: 

Good-Bye DO’s:

  • Do it in-person - or via Zoom

If at all possible, have a private moment with your colleague or colleagues. If at all possible, do so in in-person. Zoom will be a fine substitute. If circumstances allow, go out and share a meal. Honor the relationship by not rushing the good-bye. Linger for a moment. Be realistic – this will take time, especially if many colleagues are involved. Take the time. It will be time well spent. 

  • Celebrate the best of the relationship

Explicitly state what you experienced as the highest good in the relationship. Remember the moments when you had shared successes, when working together was a joy, when you conquered obstacles together. If there were rough patches in your relationship, acknowledge them in a light-hearted way but focus on what you valued, instead. Leave with the good.

  • Acknowledge what you feel

If feelings come up about a colleague’s departure or your own, state them in feeling language. If you feel sad, say so. If you don’t feel sad, do not say that you are. Stick to what is true for you in the moment, not a fantasy script of what should be said in a moment of good-bye. This sounds obvious but is not easy to execute. Because emotions can feel overwhelming, we are tempted to “shut down” when it’s time to say good-bye. Don’t. Stay present.

  • Have a stay-in-touch plan

If you would like to stay connected with a colleague, state it and be clear about how you will follow-up. Make it specific. Will you connect via your preferred social media platform? Will you call her in a month to grab a meal? Will you wait 3 months so he can adjust to new professional circumstances? Whatever your thinking of, state it. Your specificity shows that you mean it.

  • Wish them the absolute very best

Whether you liked this person or not, whether you will miss them or not – wish them the absolute very best. It’s good karma. The Golden Rule. Get in the habit of wholeheartedly wishing the best for others. Your inner homework is to make sure that you do, indeed, fully and unconditionally wish the very best for others. Your transactional reminder is to not forget to say it.

Good-bye Don’ts:

  • Avoid the good-bye

Because good-byes can be uncomfortable, it is tempting to avoid them. We suddenly get very busy on our day of departure. We feel overwhelmed or distracted. We may feel nauseous or “not fully here.” Beware. Plan time for your good-byes. Show up for them. Don’t get caught like a deer in the headlights. Don’t shun the good-bye. 

  • Offer follow-up platitudes

I suggested earlier we think ahead about how we wish to stay connected. Truth is there are those colleagues we’re happy to see go. If that is the case, acknowledge it to yourself. And do not resort to platitudes like let’s stay in touch or let’s grab a drink. Wish them the very best – but don’t “play nice” by pretending you wish to extend the relationship.

  • Give Gifts

Unless the gift is an object which is powerfully connected to a significant moment in your professional relationship, skip it. No bottles of wine, flowers, candy, company pens. The biggest gift is a moment of genuine connection and being present for whatever the good-bye moment holds. Everything else is camouflage. Drop the camouflage. Show up.

In these times of immense social distraction, remember how powerful it is when we show up for the good-byes. Do the dance. Choose to show up. Be genuine. Be prepared.

And tap the part of you that will enjoy the dance.

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