I was having a talk with a client recently, who was dealing with a difficult exit out of her current position. She was quite worried about how to handle her exit interview, and what to do if it became “contentious.”
For this particular situation, I described it to her as if we had exit interviews out of relationships. Because let’s face it, this boss just “got dumped.” He seemed to be taking it personally and even seemed to be stuck in the “anger/bitter” stage of breakup grief. (You know – the “That’s fine, I’m too good for them anyway and he smelled funny” stage.) If you think about it, giving “two weeks notice” in a dating relationship would be odd, and while it’s a nice gesture in the workplace, it can be just as awkward to live through. You’ve given notice but are still hanging around until they “find someone new.” It stretches out the breaking up process, in a sense. Of course everyone is uncomfortable! And let’s face it – some don’t handle stressful situations very well.
So, if you ever find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to always, always, always, take the high road. Always. Ignore the snarkiness, and rise above the bitter attitudes coming your way. There are a few reasons for this.
1) You will never win. They will never admit defeat or that you are right. You are already leaving, so is that a battle truly worth fighting?
2) Don’t burn your bridges. EVER. EVER. You never know who you will need to network with and what bridges you will need to travel in the future. Or what references and recommendations you will need once the dust settles.
3) It’s a small world. You don’t know who plays golf with who. And it only takes a little nasty gossip to create some major repercussions in your career or to dry up some really useful wells.
4) Stooping to participate in contentious behavior is not going to serve your career brand. Remember, this is most likely the last frame of reference they will have of you – is this the first thing you want them to remember?
And yes, I have to remind myself of this, too. I bit my tongue and take a deep breath, say a little (or large) prayer for patience and understanding, and think of how I can take the high road in this instance. It might be nodding politely, and keeping my true, more detailed, reasons to myself, and keeping to a more general, “It’s just a personal business/career decision and doesn’t reflect on my time here.” It might be reminding myself that I don’t know what they are dealing with on their side of the table and accepting this is not easy for anyone. It might be remembering to take the high road six months from now when an interviewer wants the gossip of a nasty situation, and I say, “It was a great learning experience (not mentioning that I learned what not to do).”
Part of my own personal branding is wanting to be known for high integrity, and little slip-ups or “justified” responses will damage my career value a lot quicker than a bad interview. Just like the quote above, look for ways to do the RIGHT THING. EVERY SINGLE TIME. I promise – it will pay off.