“Breakups Are Like Handguns….”: How to Exit a Difficult Situation

It’s possible some of you were startled by today’s headline. Let me explain: “Breakups are like handguns” was the pithy analogy offered to me by my brother some years ago as I exited a tumultuous romance.

What was his point? That although I was longing to say so, so, so, so many things in that moment, it was far better to observe a mandatory waiting or “cooling off” period.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, last week I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at a conference. One question I received just after I finished was, “I was so sorry we ran out of time. I wanted to ask you about how to resign gracefully.”

First, observe Rule Number One, above: Don’t do it impetuously. Although it might feel delicious to throw your phone in the fountain and walk off into the sunset in a very “The Devil Wears Prada” kind of way, in real life those choices rarely result in a Hollywood ending.

Rule Number Two: While providing adequate notice is mandatory, explaining every detail of your decision-making is not. And while it may be tempting to offer a few character assassinations and a bit of armchair psychology in your exit interview, it’s not your job to educate people on every pitfall/sand trap/minefield you’ve encountered. More often than not, it ends about as well as trying to change someone’s mind via social media….

Rule Number Three: It’s going to be awkward—breathe into it. Having announced your decision to leave you will still need to get through your notice period. This is when it can get unexpectedly tough: you may receive inducements to stay—monetary or emotional—or you may be persona non grata. Either of which might tempt you, in a moment of weakness, to open up further. Don’t do it. In these moments, I recommend saying, “This is a difficult situation. Rest assured I will do all I can to ensure a smooth transition.”

On the off chance some of you are toying with leaving a difficult situation but need a bit of a nudge, you might enjoy “A Goal for Imbeciles.”