In my younger days, I once witnessed a business systematically purging or downsizing its employee work force. This was not the giant action we typically hear about, such as when a giant company lets go thousands of employees. It was a smaller effort, such as letting one employee go each year when the employee reached a certain shelf life (when it would be time for the company to promote the employee to another level). Rather than promote the employee on the merits, this particular business opted to saddle the employee with conditional employment, almost like a quest or challenge for the employee to retain his or her position. Most of the employees were rightfully hurt and opted to leave the firm.
As I witnessed this, I observed how the targeted employees responded to the situation. Most of the employees were hurt because they felt that their work product and historical loyalty to the firm warranted different treatment. The business demanded much of our free time. Many of us put in 60-80 or more hours per week on company business. The business made frequent travel assignments that took us away from our homes and families. Most of the employees left after angry outbursts and retaliatory remarks. I saw relationships destroyed by thoughtless outbursts and accusations. The work atmosphere for the other remaining employees was a little tense and unsettled, as we waited for the dust to settle.
Then one day, it was my turn. At the time, I was listening to a series of audiotapes in my car about how to improve business attitudes and build up business relationships in negotiation situations. One piece of advice I heard on those audiotapes was that when faced with choices about how to handle potentially negative situations, to choose to "do it with class." When my turn came to handle the situation, this phrase ran through my head: "do it with class." How does one do it with class? Here is the way that I chose.
Instead of responding to the news with anger and hurt, I opted to spend a bit more time writing a really lengthy resignation memo in which I thanked every single supervisor and manager. I addressed my gratitude to each person, with specific comments that pertained only to each individual. I listed the lessons that I had learned from each person, and I wrote of all the things about my working relationship with each person that I would miss. I tried to be as classy as I could while I carefully severed my long term relationship with the business and the people who ran it. This lengthy memo was a public declaration, because each manager and supervisor read it and learned about the gracious things that I said about others.
The results for me were quite different that the results than I had observed with those other employees who were angry and said so. Each manager and supervisor came around to speak with me, and we had wonderful closing sessions between us. Everything remained friendly and pleasant. The best part is that the business sent me quite a bit of contract work for a few months afterwards, which really helped me to stay on my feet as I looked to begin a new chapter in my life.
This all happened another lifetime ago it seems, but the advice still remains valid. Whatever you do, do it with class. If you sever a relationship, make a complaint, offer a dissenting opinion, or champion a new idea, do it with class.
What does doing it with class look like? Sometimes it is easier to define something by looking at what it is not.
Doing it with class is NOT:
- using your personal power, influence, or fan base to attack someone else on a personal level
- denigrating or slamming someone with hyperbole or unfair, out-of-context statements about what someone has said or written
- threatening to bring legal action for baseless claims
- claiming conspiracies and secret, unprovable actions
- bullying others into sharing the same opinions or beliefs by causing others to fear that they will be subjected to the same thoughtless treatment
- being defensive when others subscribe to different ideas or methods
- saying or presenting things about others in a way that would intentionally cause embarrassment and discomfort
- expressing opinions without tearing someone else down in the process.
- letting the truth stand on its own merits without having to "help" it along
- allowing others the freedom to suggest other ideas or possibilities
- graciously allowing others to share the floor when it comes to free discussion of ideas
- kindly listening to what others have to say
On a personal note, this past weekend was a special time for us. My stepson Jon graduated medical school. We are all proud of his accomplishments! We look forward to the next chapter in Jon's life.