The e-mail from a long-time client came out of the blue.
“Thank you for your partnership over the years, but we have decided to go with a different vendor.” No explanation. No empathy. No sensitivity.
Granted, companies can hire and fire vendors anytime they like. They don’t even have to have a reason if they choose to work with someone else. But breaking up over email is impersonal, unprofessional, and rude.
Let me provide some context. We have worked with scores of people at this company for more than ten years. Our evaluations are off the charts, and we are repeatedly told we are the best communications coaches they have ever worked with. So this was completely unexpected. The person who fired us by email was new, so we hadn’t had any real contact with her. She didn’t know our work, probably didn’t check us out and insiders confided that she fired us so she could hire her friend’s company.
Again, she’s the boss so she can do what she wants. But, given our long-standing good working relationship, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate and respectful to call or have a face-to-face conversation in person or online? She could have said “we are appreciative of the great work you do for us, but due to some changes we’re making, we will not need your services in the foreseeable future.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to breaking up, many people take the easy way out. They might want to avoid confrontation, shy away from difficult conversations or aren’t interested in saving the relationship. In certain cases, the vendor may be located in a different time zone making it challenging to arrange an in-person meeting or call so e-mail may seem the most practical way to communicate.
Perhaps there are concerns about an individual’s emotional or volatile reaction which is why some employers may choose email as a way to maintain distance and ensure safety. However, these reasons should be the exception, not the norm. Communicating by phone or face-to-face conveys empathy, respect, and compassion for the other person. The absence of non-verbal cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can also be misinterpreted. Even a brief phone conversation allows immediate feedback, clarification, and the opportunity for closure.
Additionally relationships, even when terminated, may still be worth saving especially if the termination wasn’t due to any wrongdoing. The person doing the firing might not think they will ever need this vendor again, but there is no way to predict what type of services may be required in the future. When you prioritize effective communication and end relationships on good terms and don’t burn your bridges, you also bolster your own image and reputation.
Since email appeared to be this person’s communication preference, I responded in kind respectfully conveying my disappointment and sharing how much we enjoyed working with them. She never answered.
With such a positive history at this company, I had a feeling I would hear from them again and I was right. The call came two months later from a senior leader who confided they weren’t happy with the new vendor and wanted us back to work with select groups of people. He said the person who let us go would not be involved. While flattered, and said so, I was also hesitant.
When a company who previously fired you expresses interest in having you return, it’s important to consider your own circumstances and feelings as well by doing the following.
- Express gratitude: Thank them for reaching out and expressing an interest in working with you again.
- Seek clarity: If you want to understand why you were let go and what has transpired since your departure, ask questions. I asked and the senior leader said they are now contractually obligated to the vendor who replaced us so they would work around them without telling them.
- Communicate your perspective: If you have reservations about returning, explain to them without being negative or confrontational. I have reservations about a company trying to hide something from a vendor. This makes me question their integrity.
- Evaluate the situation: Take time to evaluate potential benefits and drawbacks of working with this company again.
- Make an informed decision: In my case, I want to work with them again but only if they are transparent with the other vendor.
Remember, while it’s important to consider your own needs, it’s also important to approach all conversations with consideration, honesty, and respect. Having a constructive conversation demonstrates professionalism and a commitment to maintaining positive business relationships.