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What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Just Been Laid Off

Mary Lorenz, CareerBuilder writer

Unless you’ve ever been laid off from a job yourself, it’s hard to understand the range of emotions one experiences as the result of a job loss. These feelings may range anywhere from denial, anger and depression (similar to what one goes through during the five stages of grief) to panic, humiliation, loss of confidence and shame (even if there’s nothing to be ashamed about).

It’s also why we struggle to find the exact right words to help a friend who has just lost his or her job. Our natural instinct may be to help them – whether by trying to “fix” the situation, offer advice or use humour to cheer them up.

But no matter how good your intentions may be, they can often backfire and make the person feel even worse. If you’re trying to help a friend who has just lost their job cope, avoid the following phrases (which may do more harm than good), and find out what to say instead.

What NOT to say: “Don’t let it get you down.”
Yeah, no problem. Why would this complete blow to my confidence get me down? A job loss can feel like a death, especially if it was sudden and/or your friend particularly liked the job. Give the person some time and space to grieve.

What NOT to say: “You’ll bounce back!”
What are you, a psychic? While you may truly believe that your friend will in fact “bounce back,” that “things will work themselves out,” or that “everything happens for a reason,” use of such cliché phrases can ring hollow in the face of such a harrowing blow.

What NOT to say: “What did you do?”
Thanks for assuming it was my fault. First of all, your friend may not have “done” anything. Oftentimes, layoffs are the result of budget cuts or restructuring, and can affect even the best of employees. Second, even if your friend’s expulsion was the result of something he or she did, chances are slim that he or she is ready or willing to talk about it. And besides, is it really any of your business either way?

What NOT to say: “I’m jealous. I wish I had an excuse to leave my job!”
Too soon. While you may only be trying to alleviate your friend’s fears with humour, making light of the situation too soon can come across as insensitive and even cruel in light of your friend’s very serious financial (and emotional) state.

What NOT to say: “Here’s MY advice…”
Who asked you? While it’s only natural to want to “fix” things for your friend, it’s also important to give your friend a chance to process what has just happened. Your friend is likely still in shock and may require some time to mourn before even thinking about moving on.

What NOT to say: “Are you so freaked out right now?”
Um, I wasn’t until you said that. Don’t add extra anxiety by putting ideas in your friend’s head. Just assume the answer is “yes” and move on.

What to say instead: “I’m here for you.”
If you’re not sure what to say in this situation, that’s OK. Sometimes a person just needs someone to listen and be there for support. Your friend doesn’t expect you to have all the answers. What they do expect is for you to be supportive and sensitive to their situation. Instead of going into “fix it” mode, try simply being there. Make it clear that you are there to listen, talk or offer advice whenever your friend is ready for it.

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