The Gifts of the Professional Good-Bye

I remember saying good-bye to my trainer. I had worked out with Ron for over 5 years. Liked the discipline. Appreciated Ron’s focused and not overly chatty demeanor. As part of the simplification of my life, I decided to do without the trainer part. Focus on swimming laps in my pool and going to the gym once in a while on my own.

Simple, right? Well, as the moment to tell Ron approached, I found myself hemming and hawing. Wanted to procrastinate. Wanted to find the “perfect moment” to say it. I suddenly felt awkward and tongue-tied. It was tough to get the words out.

Endings are hard. Good-byes are difficult.

This simple ending made me think of the many professional situations in our lives when the time comes to say good-bye. Because we have accepted a position in another company. We may have been let go. We got transferred within our company to a new role, a new business, a different location. And then there are all those moments when we stay but an individual we have worked with closely moves on.

Saying good-bye is part of the dance of life.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

Don’t sweat the good-bye, and don’t avoid it. A loss is a loss. If you have spent any time at all in the corporate world, you have likely attended a workshop about how we humans move through change. You’ve seen a graph about the emotions we’re likely to experience. The emotional change curve, as it is often called, is based on the wisdom and books of Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross (On Grief and Grieving and On Death and Dying).

Yes, it was “just” a professional relationship. And yes, feelings will kick in. Saying good-bye is not a mere transactional moment. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge a loss. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the rich encounters you and I had. Even if what we had was not always easy or friction-free.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts you may wish to consider when it is time for a professional good-bye. This I know - you will have many opportunities to apply them:

Good-bye DO’s:

  • Do it in-person
    If at all possible, have a private moment with your colleague or colleagues. If at all possible, do so in in-person. If it was a truly significant relationship, go out and share a meal. Honor the relationship by not rushing the good-bye. Linger for a moment. Be realistic – this will take time, especially if many colleagues are involved. Take the time. It will be time well spent.
  • Celebrate the best of the relationship
    Explicitly state what you experienced as the highest good in the relationship. Remember the moments when you had shared successes, when working together was a joy, when you conquered obstacles together. If your colleague was helpful to you along the way, state it. If there were rough patches in your relationship, acknowledge them in a light-hearted way but focus on what you valued, instead. Leave with the good.
  • Acknowledge what you feel
    If feelings come up about a colleague’s departure or your own, state them in feeling language. If you feel sad, say so. If you don’t feel sad, do not say that you are. Stick to what is true for you in the moment, not a fantasy script of what should be said in a moment of good-bye. This sounds obvious but is not easy to execute. Because emotions can feel overwhelming, we are tempted to “shut down” when it’s time top say good-bye. Don’t. Stay present.
  • Have a stay-in-touch plan
    If you would like to stay connected with a colleague, state it and be clear about how you will follow-up. Make it specific. Will you connect via your preferred social media platform? Will you call her in a month to grab a meal? Will you wait 3 months so he can adjust to new professional circumstances? Whatever your thinking of, state it. Your specificity shows that you mean it.
  • Wish them the very best
    Whether you liked this person or not, whether you will miss them or not – wish them the absolute very best. It’s good karma. The Golden Rule. Get in the habit of wholeheartedly wishing the best for others. Your inner homework is to make sure that you do, indeed, fully and unconditionally wish the very best for others. Your transactional reminder is to not forget to say it.
  • Let them have THEIR feelings
    Especially when YOU are the one who has chosen to leave. Especially when you are leaving behind a team that you adore and that adores you – it is easy to feel that you have done something “bad.” That you abandoned people. And that you want to make your departure easy for folks. It’s a beautiful sentiment. By all means, take care of your team. But please, don’t take care of their feelings about your departure. That’s not your job.

Good-bye DON’Ts:

  • Avoid the good-bye
    Because good-byes can be uncomfortable, it is tempting to avoid them. We suddenly get very busy on our day of departure. We feel overwhelmed or distracted. We may feel nauseous or “not fully here.” Our mind may have already raced to what we will do the week after. Beware. Plan time for your good-byes. Show up for them. Don’t get caught like a deer in the headlights. Don’t shun the good-bye.
  • Offer follow-up platitudes
    I suggested earlier we think ahead about how we wish to stay connected. As helpful as it is to be genuinely connected with professional colleagues, truth is there are those colleagues we’re happy to see go. If that is the case, acknowledge it to yourself. And do not resort to platitudes like let’s stay in touch or let’s grab a drink. Wish them the very best – but don’t “play nice” by pretending you wish to extend the relationship.
  • Give Gifts
    Unless the gift is an object which is powerfully connected to a significant moment in your professional relationship, skip it. No bottles of wine, flowers, candy, company pens. The biggest gift is a moment of genuine connection and being present for whatever the good-bye moment holds. Everything else is camouflage. Drop the camouflage. Show up.

Saying goood-bye to Ron reminded me just how uncomfortable a good-bye can be - and how powerful it is, at the same time, when we show up for it. Do the dance. Choose to show up. Be genuine. Be prepared. And tap the part of you that will enjoy the dance.

A year ago, in the depths of the pandemic, I suddenly missed my work-outs. Lap-swimming on my own wasn’t enough. I gave Ron a call.

Ron and I have been training in his private storefront gym again, ever since. Until it will be time to say good-bye again.

Related: Wait a Minute ... I’m Supposed to Collaborate With YOU?