A philosopher once told me that the way one ends a relationship says a lot about a person’s character.
Yelling and screaming recriminations and walking out and slamming the door is damaging to the people involved. Unfortunately, such endings are common. So often, relationships end badly—sometimes with great loss, trauma, or even tragedy.
There are benevolent ways to end a relationship, separate from a group, end a romantic relationship, or end an employment relationship (either terminating an employee or the employee terminating). How does one end a business relationship, romantic relationship, or a friendship and do it ethically, decently, and with the least amount of damage and hurt? I’ve been thinking and learning about this; I’m writing to clarify my thinking and to share it with you.
Ideally, relationships should be ended gradually, with goodwill, graciously, with gratitude, and generously—5 Gs.
Gradually: Separating can take days, weeks, months, or even as much as a year or more (one senior executive in a hard-to-fill position gave me 12 months’ notice of his resignation, which was also generous and gracious!). Gradual may also refer to conversations about the state and circumstances of the relationship, whether employment or personal, and giving advance signs of pending separation. A gradual approach can save time and trauma. Sometimes, where there have been serious ethical breaches or physical force or violence, relationships should be ended immediately.
Goodwill: When a relationship ends, there may be upset, rancor, hostility, disappointment, etc. Where possible, it is extremely helpful (rational?) to rise above the heated emotions, seek a benevolent perspective, think clearly before responding, and take a calm, benevolent approach to a difficult separation.
Graciously: Separations can be extremely painful. Where one can, be kind and considerate; it is an act of profound decency, particularly when one has enjoyed a close, personal relationship with some person or group. This can be a hard thing to do, but it can save much heartache.
Gratitude: For most relationships, particularly long ones, some good existed—otherwise, why would we have stayed in the relationship? Recognizing and appreciating the good, from both sides, can lessen the trauma of the separation.
Generosity: Money is obviously one aspect of generosity, but not the only one, and perhaps not even the most important one. Giving somebody time and consideration (for instance, a long notice of resignation) is extremely generous—and one can be generous with goods and services or convenience. There are various ways to be generous with a separation.
There are so many horrific stories—divorces, harsh terminations, traumatic and tragic breakups—in employment, involving groups, and certainly with romantic relationships/partnerships; somebody should write a blog 😊, an article, or a book about how to separate. Perhaps these five Gs could be a beginning.
I would enjoy hearing your thoughts regarding ending relationships or separating.
Carl B. Barney
January 30, 2022