Can’t Share the Real Story? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, 

I work in HR in a small company and recently had to let someone go. The process is never pleasant—and to make matters a bit more complicated, the terminated employee was a bit of a gossip. 

Now that she is gone, many employees are upset and have been speculating out loud about the reason she was terminated. Those who were involved in the decision are professional enough to not share the details that would make the reason clear—and, of course, as an HR professional I am also unable to do that. 

The objective side of me sees that I cannot be responsible for the perceptions of so many people and that I need to accept the damage that has been done, keep a strong visage, and stand by the company’s decision. However, I am human and I cannot help but feel that the loaded comments and meaningful glares I’m receiving are unjustified and there has to be some solution. I knew coming into the HR field that not everyone would like me, but in a small company I feel this could have a lasting negative impact on my image. 

What do you think? 

Quite Vexed

Dear Quite Vexed,

Being in HR is tough. You know way more about people than you ever wanted to know, and you have to keep it all to yourself. You are constantly fighting a deep psychological need to be included as part of the “in group”—a need that will never be adequately met at work.

I recently read a thread on a LinkedIn HR group about being friends with people at work. The folks in that group definitely seemed to agree that when you are in HR you can’t be true friends with anyone at work, although you can have friendly acquaintances. I have received the same advice being married to an owner of a family run business—but I will confess that I am hopeless at not bonding with people I really like and respect.

Your solutions, I would say, are as follows:

If in fact the employee was fired for cause, then you do have a problem because you really can’t share details.

If it was a position elimination, work with your colleagues to craft a statement explaining the business reason for the change. In the absence of information people make things up, and what they make up is usually way worse than the truth. People might be treating you poorly because they are afraid about their own jobs, so it would help a lot if people knew that their jobs were safe. Providing some kind of brief, reasonable explanation will help.

If this person was fired for being a nasty gossip and there is nothing you can say, you must face the comments and the looks head on. Get the veiled aggression out on the table by saying something like “Please don’t judge me based on assumptions you are making.” The response will almost certainly be denial, but this should stop the behaviors. When you feel as if you are being subtly bullied, calling the bully out is often the best way to make him or her back down.

Finally—and this is the most critical thing—remember that to survive in HR you are going to have to develop a very thick skin—thicker even than you expected. You also must take care of yourself by building and nurturing a very strong network of friendships outside of work so that you can get your needs for inclusion and social connection met.

You can also develop connections with others of your HR tribe online. Check into the LinkedIn group I mentioned: Linked: HR #1 Human Resources Group, or find a group like it.

There are a lot of people out there like you, many in small companies feeling a little lost, lonely and isolated. And there is a lot of support to be had.

Hang in there!

Love, Madeleine

About the author


Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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