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I was recently fired from a job, and am struggling to understand why. The reasons given were unclear and contradictory, and management were defensive when I asked for detail - this was also my experience of management during the job.

I'm concerned that my frustration at this is preventing me from clearly seeing how I contributed to the situation (or not). So I'd like to ask some of my former colleagues for feedback on how they thought I performed and behaved, to try to learn and something from this experience.

Several of them reached out to me privately with kind words when I was fired, and I expect that they would give me useful feedback if I asked. Is this a reasonable thing to do? Am I risking my relationships by making them uncomfortable? How could I mitigate these risks?

Also, I also don't want to risk references or relationships with my former managers, although I am not considering asking them for feedback. While my relationships with them were difficult, there was some warmth there, and in the termination they indicated they'd help me look for other jobs. So I'd like to ensure that if I do talk to former colleagues, it doesn't jeopardise these relationships.

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Just preface you request with "Provided you are comfortable doing so...". Also, while it's great you're trying to learn something from this firing, realize that it very well could be that it has little to nothing to do with you. –  DA. Jan 30 at 16:14
    
Note that you may have ended up a scapegoat for somebody else, and those who know may be unwilling to tell that to your face. If you feel comfortable asking the former colleagues who gave you nice words, then do. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 30 at 17:47
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4 Answers 4

I expect that they would give me useful feedback if I asked. Is this a reasonable thing to do? I don't want to risk my relationships by making them uncomfortable.

It's very reasonable, if you approach the discussion cautiously.

Ask them if they would be willing to give you some honest feedback as a way for you to understand what really happened and to try to prevent similar things from happening in the future. Ask in private, and individually rather than in a group setting.

Be sensitive to their responses, both verbal and non-verbal. Remember that these people still work at your former company, so it's difficult for them to be completely objective as they are still in the middle of things. And be sensitive to the fact that people often don't feel comfortable being brutally honest - even if that is what you are asking for. If any of them hesitate to share their understanding, you may not have made them feel safe about such a conversation, and may need to back off.

Assure them that everything they tell you will be held in the strictest confidence, then follow through on that promise. Don't talk about one former colleague with another. Don't repeat what your colleague says about a former boss to another.

If they are willing to share, remember that they can only provide one viewpoint, and that is never the whole story. Never blame them for any part of your situation. And refrain from blaming anyone else or trying to get them to blame anyone else. Try to focus on you.

Never get angry at what they tell you, even if it hurts you personally and professionally. You have asked for feedback - accept it as helpful, constructive advice; even if it may include criticism of you. Thank they for being candid and for their help.

Asking for this kind of feedback is a great way to learn, understand, and to move on.

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Love the answer. I'd add that there are companies and cases where your former colleagues are prohibited by company policy. If this is the answer you get from them, thank them and don't press for more. It's fine to ask, but it also has to be fine to say "no". –  bethlakshmi Jan 30 at 14:53
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First off, it depends on your country - in different countries, there's different cultures related to firing and giving feedback. In my country - Finland - employer can't fire someone without giving good reasons for that. If they refuse to give good reason, that's perfectly good reason to go to court to fight over it (and here, compensation is something like your 1-4 months salary, nothing crazy).

I suggest you think what you have to lose. Do you have a good relationship with those who reached you privately? Is it good enough to withstand uncomfortable question like that? If you ask properly - in a way they can avoid answering honestly, if they want to - there shouldn't be a problem. I would go with non-face-to-face communication (email/chat or something like that) to avoid inflicting social pressure on them - it's way easier to think what they want to answer if they have time for that, instead of you standing there and waiting.

As already said in other answers, they're not going to hire you back. However, in my opinion, you still should try to get those reasons to improve yourself and avoid similar problems in the future.

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There is absolutely no problem in asking them for their feedback.

Just be sure about the way you ask it. It shouldn't look like you are trying to find out WHY (some might find it as a rant for losing your job). Instead, ask in a way that is aimed at knowing what you can take from the experience. You can ask about your performance and the possible shortcomings you had during your stint at your job.

Although your previous managers have already indicated some warmth towards you, I suggest you not to look for jobs through them (since you have indicated that your relationship with them wasn't all that great). Instead, take their feedback.

Always remember that even managers are human beings and they'll have a soft corner for you having lost your job. Try to learn from the experience and take this setback in your stride.

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The distinction you make between asking to learn about my performance and asking to find out why I was fired is incredibly helpful, thank you. –  blazerr Jan 30 at 15:51
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Is it ok to ask former colleagues for feedback after being terminated?

I don't want to risk my relationships by making them uncomfortable.

I also don't want to risk references or relationships with my former managers. Although my relationships with them were difficult, there was some warmth there, and in the termination they indicated they'd help me look for other jobs.

Then don't do it.

First of all, people might not want to discuss this with you, and you don't want to put them in an uncomfortable situation.

On the other hand, if people do agree to discuss this with you, then:

  1. The conversation might cause some hard feelings.
  2. People might not reveal the truth about why you were fired for either emotional or legal reasons, and that might confuse you even more.

More on #1:

If people do agree to talk to you, and they attempt to be very honest with you, then they may say things like:

  • Your performance was poor.
  • Your compensation was too high relative to your output.

And when you ask for reasons, those reasons may appear to be very subjective, unfair, or even flat wrong. And if this is the case, then you may be tempted to argue with them about their reasons.

And here's what's even worse - Even if you do convince them that they fired you for the wrong reasons:

  • There's essentially zero chance that they'll hire you back.
  • The hard feelings that result from this difficult conversation may reduce the chance that your ex-coworker will recommend you for future employment at another company.

In short, don't do it.

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I really appreciate your answer, it is useful to think about the worst case here and you've helped me go from a vague sense of unease to a clear picture of what that could be. But I'm looking to understand the risks and learn ways I could take careful, calculated decisions, rather than avoid them entirely. I really value your answer even though I don't think it's the action I will end up taking. –  blazerr Jan 30 at 15:50
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Further, I've just edited the question, changing it to being about understanding and mitigating risk instead of avoiding it. Thanks again, you've helped me clarify what I actually want to know. –  blazerr Jan 30 at 15:56
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