Career Tips

The Kindness in Terminations, Criticism and Rejection

I have a twin sister. As far as twins go, we don’t have many similarities. My sister’s curly jet black hair, green eyes, artistic ability and tendency to say things like fiddlesticks when mad are the polar opposites of me. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I say fiddlesticks, too. What can I say? We spent a lot of time with our grandmother in our formative years.

Though I’ve always been aware of our physical and creative differences, my sister brought another one to my attention several years ago. It was a doozy. After overhearing a phone conversation I had with a temporary employee who needed to be counseled and eventually terminated for poor choices, my sister informed me should could never do what I do because she wasn’t mean enough to fire people. Though she didn’t intend to call me mean, her words gave me pause. As a person who has largely been viewed as a goody-goody by most of my friends and co-workers, it was the first time I’d ever considered my actions could be interpreted as unkind. After stopping and thinking for a bit if her words rang true, I determined two things. First, memories of some events from our childhood reminded me she had more potential to be mean than she was giving herself credit for. Second, sometimes what may seem mean on the surface may actually be kindness in its most genuine and honest form.

Honesty is big in my book and it extends beyond just being honest with myself. So much of what I do involves keeping others honest about how their own actions, or lack there of, affect their ability to reach their goals. Through the years I’ve had to have a lot of difficult conversations with people who may or may not have wanted to hear what I had to say. No matter what they wanted, the need for them to hear it was there so I went for it. I can’t say I enjoyed all of those conversations. The goody-goody in me hated to hear the hurt or anger in the other person’s voice, but I knew hinting at problems or ignoring them for someone else to address was the meanest thing I could do for that person. The truth of the matter is, sometimes people need to get fired, need to fail, need to have that come to Jesus conversation with someone who is far enough removed for it not to be personal, in order to form better habits and get things back on track.

When I have to have tough conversations with professionals about their attitude, presentation, skill set and such, I often hear, “no one has ever told me that before.” That’s probably not the reality of the situation. My guess is no one has ever told them in a direct way that forced them to hear to the unvarnished truth. We are a society that is more inclined to tell people what they want to hear, hint at problems and run from conflict if we conclude the potential resulting drama isn’t worth the effort. I understand it and sometimes do the same with challenges in my personal life. Professionally, it’s a different story. At the end of the day I know the individuals I’m committed to helping need me to tell them the truth. They need to hear what may be standing in between where they are now and where they want to be. So, I’m mean. I’m mean without malice behind my words. I’m mean with love in my heart for the unique individuals they all are. I’m mean with high hopes I can be a part of them finding a way to better outcomes down the road.

The next time it feels like someone has been mean to you by criticizing you in some way or telling you that you aren’t a fit, take a moment to think about their intentions and the potential truth of their words.  Ask yourself if the message would have resonated had it been smothered in frosting and sugar. Consider if what initially felt mean might have been the most genuine extension of kindness you’ve experienced in your search.

To those on the front lines of helping job seekers find work, tell them the truth. Tell them what they need to hear. Cheerleading has its place, but it won’t help someone get a job who needs to stop and take stock of some things.


Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.


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