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About to Get Fired? What To Do When The Writing’s On The Wall

There are certain experiences we can all do without in our career and getting fired probably takes the cake. So recognizing the signs of an impending pink slip is definitely something you should know about. Throughout my 35 years of experience of thinking about how to measure success at work, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying careers that are just about to go south. They’ve all got one thing in common: the writing’s always on the wall.

What’s surprising is that in so many cases, it’s the bosses themselves who actually write on the wall – sometimes even in bold, capital letters. This is generally done to allow their subordinates to plan their own escape route, unscathed from the embarrassment of being fired.

When the writing is on the wall

“Writing on the wall” in this case usually comes under two main themes: shutting you out and reducing your footprint, which are two indicators of how to measure success at work.

Shutting you out might mean your boss stops:

  • involving you in new ventures;
  • informing you of upcoming events;
  • asking your opinion;
  • inviting you to meetings;
  • planning future projects.

Reducing your footprint might include:

  • taking away responsibility from you;
  • not implementing your decisions;
  • praising you less;
  • avoiding you in general.

Some or any of these behaviors are telltale signs that the writing’s indeed on the wall – and that you should look into it.

Denial is more than a river in Egypt

Despite this being as as clear as day to you and me, it’s always shocking to me how many managers refuse to read the writing on the wall. Not only will they ignore the writing, but they’ll also often put a spin on it, dismissing it with thoughts like:

  • “I’m probably just imaging this.”
  • “My boss is all worked up this week.”
  • “My boss and I have been experiencing a sort of rough patch recently.”

…or any other possible excuse.

When we dismiss the writing on the wall, not only do we fail at preparing ourselves for the inevitable, we also end up emotionally demolished once we’re actually fired.

This kind of scenario usually plays out not because we haven’t recognized the writing on the wall, but due to our natural tendency to deny bad news. Now denial isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it has many advantages, such as helping us survive challenging times. But when the writing’s on the wall, denial can lead us down a slippery slope to misery. So I think you’ll agree that facing an impending pink slip with denial is not the way to go. Instead, you need to take control.

Take control of the situation

When you begin to detect any signs of writing on the wall for a period of time that makes you start to feel uncomfortable, share this feeling with a co-worker, friend, or significant other—someone not directly involved. Run the signs by them and ask them what they think. Pay attention to any differences there might be between their interpretation and yours. Once you’ve identified any differences, try your best to view these signs through their eyes.

If you’re lucky, perhaps you’re just overreacting to a specific incident and everything’s fine. But if indeed the writing’s on the wall, you must immediately acknowledge it so that you can remain in control of your own career. Your goal at this point is to prevent unnecessary heartache as you carefully calculate your next move.

Remember that though getting fired is probably the worst thing that will occur in your career, it happens every day. With the right pre-planning, you’ll find yourself up on your feet again, ready to take on your next challenge.

And always remember:

Great managers are made. Not born.

About the Author Etika Katabi

Etika founded her blog - Great managers are made. Not born. - based on 35 years of field research and experience in empowering mid-level executives to achieve the promotions they deserve. Reach out to Etika on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

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