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You’ve likely heard the standard advice about resigning. This is not that advice. Consider this the advanced version of the quitting conversation. It’s purpose is to help you exit in style.

As a senior executive, I had the pleasure of hiring and managing a large staff. Sadly, I’ve also been the recipient of many resignations. As a career mentor I work with countless people on transitioning out of jobs. Here’s what I know:

A job is like a relationship and quitting is like breaking up. Sometimes when you break up with someone, while it’s still sad, you accept it more easily, while other times you feel run over. Why is that? It’s likely your former partner has convinced you that it wasn’t meant to be; that you deserve better and weren’t moving in the same direction.

When the message is delivered in a particular way, instead of shock, defensiveness and anxiety, it can pass almost pleasantly (Ok that’s almost impossible. Let’s say with minimal amounts of pain). Imagine!

Before you resign, consider this: 

1. The Emotional Check-In

Are you upset about something? Have you been overlooked for a promotion or denied a raise? Did you just receive a less than stellar review or were you robbed of credit on a project?

While these are all valid reasons to be upset, it’s temporary. Let it marinate. If you’re still unhappy, speak with your boss and be transparent about what you need and how you feel. If there’s no way the situation will improve, then consider leaving.

Otherwise, be upset and then get over it. We all get screwed over at work from time to time so toughen up buttercup. Quitting to prove a point only hurts you in the long run.

2. Is That A Wolf I Hear?

If you’re going to quit, then quit. Crying wolf is one of THE worst moves you can pull in your professional career. If you’re using the quitting conversation as a ploy to get more money, perks or responsibility, you’re better off being direct. This WILL backfire.

An “I quit” threat is what we call a CLM- a Career Limiting Move.

Heads up: If you’re a rock solid employee, a counter-offer may be coming your way. Just remember why you’re here in the first place. Don’t allow yourself to be bought or bribed back into staying; it disrupts relationships, makes you seem like someone who can be swayed and it damages trust.

3. The Empathy Tactic

This is where the true artistry comes in i.e. the difference between Beyonce performing at the Grammys and my living room performance. It’s the secret sauce so I’ll spend the most time here.

Sit in your boss’s seat, so to speak. If you’re not a naturally empathetic person, this will feel very foreign. And you’re likely wondering, “why should I care how my boss feels? I’m stressed enough!” but stay with me.

Imagine you’re your boss receiving the news of your resignation. What would your reaction be? Are you caught off guard? What are you concerned about? What are wondering?

If you don’t know, let me share some possibilities: “How long have you been looking? Is there anything I can or could’ve done to prevent this? Is this a reflection on me? Have you been secretly looking for ages? Have I not read the signs? What will I tell the department or my boss? How will I make up for this loss without missing my own goals?”

Here’s a great example of this tactic working out well:

A client I mentored was an up-and-comer with PWC. They’d recruited him for months to work there (read: in-demand) and he was a star among his peers. They’d definitely taken care of him with a good salary, perks and a path to partnership. About 11 months in, he was at a networking event and met the owner of a cutting-edge small firm who was immediately taken by him. Within 2 weeks, he’d interviewed and was offered a can’t-refuse job that gave him increased responsibility, more flexibility and less travel which was key given his growing family. What was he to do? He was sweating it, that’s for sure!

I’ve counseled numerous people on resigning- it’s one of my specialties- and I’m particularly proud of the way this client handled his situation.

We deconstructed what his current boss would be thinking and built the conversation around those points. He explained the situation truthfully and addressed his boss’s concerns before he had the chance to bring them up. My client aced the conversation and because he did, his former boss is one of his biggest advocates and key members of his network to this day.

Approaching the conversation empathetically versus passing the stiff corporate BS back and forth will help you stand apart. And, it’ll be easier on you.

You’ll get your point across while alleviating any easily-triggered defensiveness. You’ll ease them into the idea you’re leaving rather than dumping it on their desk.

If this position/offer came from nowhere, say that. If the decision has been tough for you, say so. If you hope to keep a relationship with that person, tell them. If you won’t leave them in a pinch, explain that.

Obviously you won’t know everything your boss is thinking but you can be prepared and have the conversation in style.

Last minute tips:

Have your workout plan ready to go, help train your replacement and wrap up any loose ends. Don’t give up towards the end and don’t leave them in a pinch. It’s enticing but not worth it.

In an exit interview, while it might fulfill your dreams to list all the things that need to be changed, limit this to helpful, changeable feedback only.

Have this conversation in person. (I questioned whether to write that but when I came across this new Quit Your Job app I felt obligated to mention it. It’s pretty hilarious!)

grace and choice

It’s possible to leave your job without losing your mind and destroying relationships. Whether or not you’ll ever work for your company again is not the point. This is about your reputation and taking the high road.

Everyone quits, typically more than once. How you quit makes all the difference. Remember that karma will show her face again. It’d be nice if she weren’t giving you the look of death when you next meet, don’t you think?

What’s your best advice for resigning with grace? Let’s dish in the comments below!

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Leave a Comment

  • Laura Carmody January 28, 2014, 3:03 pm

    Great advice on what can be a stressful situation!

    • Anne January 28, 2014, 9:57 pm

      Thanks Laura! You’re the best!

  • Reba Charleston January 28, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Great article addressing the internal and emotional aspects of employment separation. It just goes to show, if we take more of a holistic approach and try to view a situation from multiple angles, it opens up greater understanding and empathy. This is great stuff Anne, thanks!

    • Anne January 28, 2014, 9:58 pm

      Thanks so much Reba! I totally agree. When we see the big picture, it all comes into focus (surprisingly!).

  • Amanda January 28, 2014, 8:12 pm

    I think this is great. I have seen some people cause a major scene on their way out the door. But I also think that some bosses should take a class on how to graciously accept resignations. The last boss I had simply got up and walked out of the room and refused to acknowledge that I had turned in my resignation letter. He even refused to discuss the topic until 2 days before my last day. I did my best to get others around me up to speed, but he made it difficult for everyone in the process.

    • Anne January 28, 2014, 9:59 pm

      Thanks Amanda! I totally agree that many boss’s aren’t great at having this conversation either. Many take it far too personally, as it sounds like yours did. I think an article from that angle would be really interesting. Thanks for the advice!

  • Jennifer S January 28, 2014, 10:46 pm

    Great advice indeed! The world is smaller than it seems and burning bridges is never a bad idea. In my industry everyone knows everyone else and leaving in an unprofessional manner doesn’t typically bode well when you’re trying to obtain employment in the same field. I’ve quit more than one job in my working career, but am always grateful to have a few places that I can call if I need extra cash. Most of my work has been in the restaurant industry where it’s easy to throw someone new into the mix for a few nights, but having maintained those relationships has been a blessing during the times when my business isn’t pulling in as much revenue as I’d like. It’s nice to have the support of my former employers b/c I worked hard when I was employed with them and left on good terms as well.

    • Anne January 30, 2014, 4:06 pm

      This is great insight, Jennifer. You’re right- you never know when you’ll see people again and you can’t always undo a bad impression. It’s nice to have those relationships “in your back pocket” if you need them. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dr. Susan Bernstein January 29, 2014, 2:49 am

    So wise, Anne! I especially like the first point. It’s so important for us to notice when we’re upset. I counsel my clients that if they’re angry, it’s vital to shift from being a victim to being a co-creator of the future, which means asking for what you want, instead of whining about what’s not working. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Anne January 30, 2014, 4:05 pm

      I love this wording: “being a co-creator of the future.” It’s so powerful! Thank you Susan!

  • Maria Davis January 29, 2014, 11:15 am

    great insights Anne – great read and certainly very helpful and practical considerations. Excellent xx

    • Anne January 30, 2014, 4:03 pm

      Thanks so much Maria!

  • Susan January 30, 2014, 1:53 pm

    Awesome post!! Jobs and the relationships that come with them can be major button pushers! It’s so hard to detach when emotions are running high and the way you have broken it down is genius!

    • Anne January 30, 2014, 4:03 pm

      Thanks Susan! It’s hard not to take a resignation personally because we’re human! While you never know how emotional conversations will play out, if you have a plan in advance it can make it easier. I appreciate your support!

  • Jennifer Kennedy January 30, 2014, 3:38 pm

    I definitely needed to read this article today!!! I am in the process of planning my resignation for later this year. And, you’ve brought up so many points that I didn’t think of. I really thought of it as, I’m going to pick a date and then I’m leaving. I love the idea of leaving with grace and having a real conversation.

    I’m wondering, since I am planning to quit sometime this year, how far in advance should I tell my boss? I know that 2 weeks is a guideline, but I feel if I were to really leave with grace, this time period is too short. I really do want to help facilitate my exit!

    Thanks for this article! I’m definitely bookmarking it to reread!

    • Anne January 30, 2014, 4:01 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! It’s always the “how” that sets us apart. Congrats on your decision to move on!

      I agree that two weeks is more of a minimum and more time is necessary the more senior your position. I would say a month is reasonable (depending on your next venture) for you to facilitate the exit smoothly. If that doesn’t work for your company, at the very least you’ve proposed a generous transition which is a graceful move :) Good luck!

  • Melissa January 31, 2014, 12:49 am

    Anne, what a way to consider such a life-changing decision. I’ll definitely keep these tips in mind, even if just to share with others. I think the world would be a much healthier place if we choose empathy every situation.

    • Anne January 31, 2014, 1:03 am

      Thank you Melissa!

  • Emily February 2, 2014, 12:45 am

    This is such a big topic! Thank you for highlighting this. It’s so easy to get fearful about changing careers even when we know we’ve grown out of them! Thanks for the information!

  • Carroll B. Merriman February 2, 2014, 2:28 am

    Very interesting subject, thank you for posting.

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