108

When I fire someone because of a behavioral problem he has, it's ethical not to talk about the problem in his behavior with other teammates, so that his reputation isn't corrupted in their eyes. But, if I don't explain why I had to do it, 2 problems arise:

  1. Teammates may feel that I'm an irrational person who fires people for random reasons, or rumors may spread about why I did it.
  2. If I don't tell them why I did it, they may not believe that that kind of behavior is intolerable in here, and they may be tempted to do it too, forcing me to fire other people too; whereas if I had told them what was the reason of this firing, it will create a deterrence strong enough to make it stop occurring again.

I know that there are several other methods to make people believe if they break rules there will be consequences, but I don't think there's any method more powerful than saying: "see, he did it, so he was punished".

And please assume that in this case, there's no way to tell other ones what happened without damaging reputation of that person. If I disclose the reason behind termination, everybody agrees with me that it was right, but this behavior in particular wasn't in front of other ones eyes, so they didn't notice it.

What I'm most afraid is that they may think that termination had some other reasons, jumping to conclusion: "He got fired because of that totally rational behavior, so managers are crazy and they may fire me too for some other stupid reason". It's clear without saying how this damages the morale.

What should I do in this dilemma? Am I allowed to ruin his reputation in this team, or should I just pray that this behavior isn't repeated again? I know it's disrespectful to talk behind back of other people, hence the dilemma.

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    I'm assuming the behavior is something people should OBVIOUSLY realize is not okay? Because you either have really weird employees (who would blatantly misbehave if not for the threat of punishment, which is a terrible place to work from) or you have really weird rules (where seemingly normal behavior can get you fired) – Erik Sep 13 '17 at 18:08
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    He did bad things and he's gone now. Most people will be able to put one and one together without an explanation for why he left. – Dukeling Sep 13 '17 at 18:16
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    Where are you located? That could influence this answer. From a team dynamics perspective it is often smart to talk about changes that could affect the team. But from a legal perspective, discussing firing details could open you to liability (if you live in the US at least). Most larger corporations have HR policies on how to deal with these situations. Does yours? – DanK Sep 13 '17 at 18:17
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    So you're terminating people for conduct that is broadly considered acceptable at other jobs they could get with the same skills for comparable pay, and hoping that doesn't affect morale? – Affe Sep 13 '17 at 20:15
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    When these sudden terminations occur, it is only a matter of time before people find out what happened. Either someone who knows or the person who got fired himself will talk. If you intend to maintain secrecy, that simply won't work. It is reasonable to explain the general reasons for the termination, if you don't imagination or gossip will take over and do more damage than trying to maintain a secret. – teego1967 Sep 14 '17 at 17:11

13 Answers 13

131

NO

There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea, but the bottom line is it was a business decision to terminate the employment. It is very disrespectful to go around afterward and gossip about why they were let go. They have no opportunity to respond to the allegations you would be making, and it might open you up to legal trouble.

To be most safe and respectful to your company and your current and former employees, do not mention termination at all. Simply state that the former employee is no longer with the company, and direct questions to... yada yada..

That said, if there were an issue that happened in the office, that led to termination, then having a meeting to discuss the policy that prohibits that behavior is not inappropriate.

We had someone who worked for our division at a Fortune 50 company, get fired for using their company backed credit card at a casino. When that happened, the entire division had meetings where the policy on the proper use of the company backed credit card was discussed as well as clarification that it was grounds for termination to use the card for personal expenses. Here the specific case was not discussed but the policy was.

At another company, someone was caught using their company laptop at home after hours to visit adult web sites. This time a meeting was called and the policy of not visiting work inappropriate sites on company laptops was discussed, as well as further discussions about how the company was going to be cracking down on Fantasy Sports Betting. This was something that was already prohibited but had not been enforced.

In the end, your team's morale is best served by having strong effective leadership that they can count on. In a week, the gossip about "Ted in accounting" will be old news and everyone will have moved on. Assuming you were prepared for the loss of the team member and properly shifted the workload, your team should be on course and back to normal.

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    Having a meeting about "that-bad-behavior" and declaring in it that "mr x was terminated" naturally makes the conclusion that "mr x got terminated because of that behavior", right? How is this different from telling it clearly? – sazary Sep 13 '17 at 18:45
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    @sazary Just review the policies that prohibited the behavior, not person X did action Y. – Mister Positive Sep 13 '17 at 18:51
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    @sazary - Aside from the clarification, there are times where rumors will get out about the reason someone was let go. Do not engage in rumor mongering, but that does not mean dont run your business. The business is best served by making sure no more of your employees are let go for the same behavior. The first one is on the employee. Each one after that is on you. They can make assumptions and rumors about what happened. But as long as the policy is solid that should not cause you harm. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 13 '17 at 19:11
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    that sentence is excellent, and part of the reason why I thought I have to ask this question: "The business is best served by making sure no more of your employees are let go for the same behavior. The first one is on the employee. Each one after that is on you" – sazary Sep 13 '17 at 19:26
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    This is good advice. However, any employee who doesn't make the connection between the "termination of employee A" and "training on company policy x" isn't really trying very hard. Most people will make the connection and understand the issue without management having to specifically connect the dots for them. Management could have training on policies X, L & B - 3 wildly unrelated ones, just to throw people off the scent, but that may be going overboard. – FreeMan Sep 14 '17 at 11:54
41

What should I do in this dilemma? Am I allowed to ruin his reputation in this team, or should I just pray that this behavior isn't repeated again?

No.

Remain professional. Don't ruin anybody's reputation.

Even after being fired, former employees deserve to be treated professionally and with respect.

They may have not fit the job well, but they didn't kill anyone (unless they did, in which case you really don't need to tell your team not to kill anyone).

It's virtually never the case that behavior which resulted in someone getting fired isn't already known as something that "isn't done". If you feel compelled to give some reason, use the same generic phrases that you would use if you were asked why you were fired - "It wasn't a good fit.", "We decided to go in another direction", "It just didn't work out", etc.

In general, a person getting fired is seldom surprised. Warnings, chances to improve, and formal Performance Improvement Plans should take care of that. If they are surprised, think over why that is, and find a way to convey your expectations more clearly.

For your team, emphasize your expectations during regular one-on-one meetings. If for some reason you haven't already made clear that the intolerable behavior which led to the firing is bad, then you must list that as something that is not permitted without referencing the individual. If you are communicating with your team well on a regular basis, there's no need to pray about their behavior.

Although I don't know the specifics of your situation, I think you aren't giving your team enough credit for knowing what they must do to prevent being fired. Once you announce that this individual is leaving (or is gone), human nature tells us that if they don't already know why, your team members will ask their former colleague about it and learn the reason why. You want the fired employee to relay that they were treated professionally even when being fired. And hopefully, your team trusts you enough to know that you would never fire someone for a "random reason". If not, you have bigger problems to work on.

The last few times I had to fire someone, it was simply because they weren't capable of handling what the job required. They weren't bad people, they were just a bad fit. The rest of the team had already come to the same conclusion, so I really never needed to explain it. I did need to think harder why I wasn't able to more accurately assess their abilities before I hired them, so that I wouldn't repeat my mistake.

When I was young, I worked in a supermarket. One of the clerks was fired for stealing a $0.19 pen. Word got around quickly without any manager ever having to explain why he was fired - the grapevine took care of that. And everyone already knew that stealing could get you fired.

(As @closetnoc wisely points out, there are issues with liability if you choose to talk about reasons for firing someone. The company and individuals can be sued for what they say post firing. What you say could potentially be used as evidence in a discrimination or defamation lawsuit. If you still decide to go that route, talk with HR first.)

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    In general, a person getting fired is seldom surprised - I am not sure how true that is. There are a substantial number of terminations that occur over the first offense. I think the surprise is usually over getting caught more than getting fired though. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 13 '17 at 19:16
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    Very strong answer. You can add one more point. Liability. The company and individuals can be sued for what they say post firing. This has happened and the fired individual won. What was said? Not much. However, it could be taken as defamation even when slight. Refer all questions to HR to be safe. Again, very strong answer! Cheers!! – closetnoc Sep 13 '17 at 20:29
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    You wrote that "your team members will ask their former colleague about it and learn the reason why." Depending on the circumstances, the former colleague might simply lie. They've already been fired, so why would they voluntarily confess their misdeeds? – Ilmari Karonen Sep 13 '17 at 21:50
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    @JoeStrazzere While that's the appropriate response if asked, saying such would probably not be enough to dispel suspicion. Not to mention that the employees may well never ask. Ultimately, it would be a question of how much trust you have built with your team, as your answer discusses. – jpmc26 Sep 13 '17 at 22:36
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    And hopefully, your team trusts you enough to know that you would never fire someone for a "random reason". If not, you have bigger problems to work on. That was the first exclamation mark that popped up in my head when reading that OP thought the öther employees might think "so managers are crazy and they may fire me too for some other stupid reason". – user8036 Sep 15 '17 at 10:26
16

YES.

The previous answers did not address the question as asked, namely:

If I disclose the reason behind termination, everybody agrees with me that it was right, but this behavior in particular wasn't in front of other ones eyes, so they didn't notice it.

What I'm most afraid is that they may think that termination had some other reasons, jumping to conclusion: "He got fired because of that totally rational behavior, so managers are crazy and they may fire me too for some other stupid reason". It's clear without saying how this damages the moral.

I know it's disrespectful to talk behind back of other people, hence the dilemma.

You are a businessman in charge of a team. All that matters to you, professionally speaking, is the team. Team morale is important, and that morale is shattered, absolutely shattered, when one of their numbers suddenly disappears. The worst motives are suspected. You have to say something.

Just do it the right way. Stick to the facts, avoid adjectives, don't exaggerate, briefly explain your opinion, and leave it at that. Don't go into details, don't belittle the former employees. There is nothing belittling about the truth, and it's impossible to be successfully sued for slander if it is true.

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    Even statements of truth are a legal liability if they damage reputations. All that matters professionally is being professional and as a businessman, he should not at all be risking himself or the business to that kind of suit, regardless of the fact he may technically win it. There is no such thing as a right way to do something terribly wrong. Just don't do it at all. – user53718 Sep 15 '17 at 8:25
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    @Nij That is simply not true. The truth is the ultimate defence in a defamation claim. – Miles Rout Sep 16 '17 at 2:06
  • Everywhere? No, it's not. While truth is an absolute defence to defamation, there are jurisdictions and circumstances where it is not. Like, you know, Iran. Where the original asker of the question is from. Be a bit broader in perspective before making absolute statements. – user53718 Sep 16 '17 at 3:25
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    it's impossible to be successfully sued for slander if it is trueI How often are "truths" provably absolute? Think about when a contentious event occurs: how many "versions" of that "fact" will there be? – javadba Sep 16 '17 at 5:15
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    @Nij no one's saying OP should defame. Every time I ever talk to another human being or don't it's a legal liability. If you want to define professionalism that way then sure, but the OP should still be good in business like maintain team morale. – user42272 Sep 16 '17 at 15:51
16

Context is very important for this question. Large companies generally handle it differently from small ones. The largest we ever got was 11 people. If someone left, there were lots of questions in the minds of those remaining. Along with "who is going to finish that work?" and "what are we telling clients if they ask?" there was often also "is this information that changes anything for me or makes me feel less secure?"

I would have an all-hands meeting as soon as the person involved was told, and I would give an explanation that wasn't specific enough to violate confidences, but wasn't vague enough to leave them worrying about themselves. Examples:

I am sure you're all aware we've been getting less and less X work this year. You also know that Person has been trying other kinds of work here, and how that went. We've agreed there just isn't enough work Person can do coming in, so we laid them off. [Quick summary of the mechanics such as they will be paid till the end of the month etc - this is to reassure people that we are fair and helpful when this happens. Also logistics like who will get new duties now, and what to say if someone calls for them or asks about them.]

For an actual firing:

It's no secret that Person's performance hasn't been where it should be. Everyone in this room has been part of helping with that, whether it's fixing mistakes after the fact or trying to train Person in what we need doing. I appreciate all of that effort and want to thank you all again for it. This week [partner] and I decided that it was just not working out and Person isn't working here any more. They'll be paid for the next 3 weeks , [etc with mechanics. These may include that there were warnings, or multiple meetings with Person about it, again aimed at "don't worry we won't just fire you tomorrow and say it was for performance."]

I never had to deal with this, but for a firing-on-the-spot when very bad behavior was discovered:

Yesterday Person committed a firing offense and was fired. I am not going to discuss the details with you, and I am confident none of you would ever do such a thing. This wasn't a personal conflict between two people: it was unprofessional behavior that could have seriously damaged this company. I can't provide more details on that. On the mechanics of Person's departure, [usual stuff people want to know, but in this case nothing about severance pay or benefits.]

The more complete your statement is, the less likely people will ask nosy questions. You don't want to close with "if there's anything else you want to know just swing by and ask me." This isn't a chit-chat topic.

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    "Yesterday Person committed a firing offense and was fired" - this can also be a good point to mention the fact that the employee handbook clearly identifies certain actions as being grounds for immediate dismissal, and to remind everyone that they are responsible for reviewing said handbook and knowing the things that they are expected to absolutely not do. – Dan Henderson Sep 15 '17 at 20:42
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    Yes, that's how I have also seen terminations being handled at small to medium-sized companies. Say enough so others will not feel the termination was random and capricious, but don't disclose personal details. – sleske Sep 16 '17 at 23:39
11

People in the workplace don't always like to work for "authoritarian" leaders. By just seeming to randomly fire people without explanation, you seem very "authoritarian".

Your employees will feel very uneasy and insecure about their positions. It is better to express the wisdom and insight in as to why you fired the individual, and your employees will probably have more respect and trust of you.

8

Employments are terminated all the time for a variety of reasons, most common among them being resignation, end of contract, and getting fired. There seems to be no good reason why other team members have to know any more details than "Mr X would be leaving the company on DD/MM/YY". People can usually guess if an employee was fired based on the preceding events, but as a manager, you don't have to disclose confidential details to anyone who doesn't need to know.

There is also no need to set an example for the other team members as to what can get you fired. They should know what is expected of them without "referring to an example". Besides, announcing to the remaining team members that "this guy for fired because he did that, and it could happen to you as well" only hurts morale, as people will begin to wonder "who's next on the boss's list?"

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    actually the question is which hurts the moral most: "he got fired because of this, and it can happen to me too" or "he got fired for some unknown reason, and they may fire me for some random reason too"? and I think we should take into account rumors too – sazary Sep 13 '17 at 18:47
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    @sazary They have no reason to know he was fired. For all you know, he got a better job or had to move to another city for family reasons and left. I don't see an employee leaving a company as a particularly remarkable event. If people have so little trust in their manager that they believe that he will fire them for "random" reasons, I am not convinced that they will believe the manager's explanation of the firing either. There is no need to worry about rumours, rumour peddlers will always find something to talk about, a manager should be mature enough not to pour oil over the fire. – Masked Man Sep 13 '17 at 18:55
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    @MaskedMan generally when an employee leaves of his own accord, he tells people about it before hand, or at least walks around the office on her last day saying good bye and giving some sort of rational sounding reason, even if it's a vague "there's a personal situation I have to take care of". If a person disappears, the assumption is he was fired. – FreeMan Sep 14 '17 at 12:00
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    @FreeMan It is a good assumption and probably holds in majority of cases, but not the only one. A person can also "disappear" of his own accord without telling anyone for reasons like the ones mentioned in the above comment. If people want to peddle rumours, that is no longer his problem, and in any case, the manager shouldn't use that as a justification to publicly announce why the person left. – Masked Man Sep 14 '17 at 12:15
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    "Who's next on the boss's list" a real threat that can plague most employees – Malcolm Salvador Sep 15 '17 at 5:58
6

Discussing the private details of an HR-related action with other people in his work group is something no manager should ever consider doing. This is highly confidential information. It is cause for firing in most companies with an HR group in the US for a manager to let confidential information out. (I can't speak for other countries, but suspect it might be in many others because betraying confidential information is serious stuff).

Managers must be able to keep private information private and should have the judgement to know what is private and what can be shared. Managers are often required to keep quiet on a variety of topics including who might be promoted, who is going to be on the layoff list, who is buying the company, what other people's performance ratings are, etc. Anyone who does not know that they need to keep this stuff quiet has no business in management.

If there was a policy problem that needs to be reinforced, then address that separately and not related to the firing at all. Without mentioning the fired person by name, most employees will get the message that this is a firing offense.

If the firing happened for something unreasonable but not covered in a written policy (since you do not have to show cause in many US states), now is the time to make sure that the prohibited actions get spelled out in writing to avoid future violations.

However, you must also consider that if you fired John for doing X and you you know that Mary is doing it as well, then you may be in trouble in a challenge to the firing if you did not also fire Mary. I have seen companies get into trouble and have it cost them a good bit of money of they choose to allow a practice for some employees that they fire others for. This is part of why all companies need an HR (either full-time or a consultant) or a labor lawyer. (Small start-ups especially as they often have no one who knows how to legally protect the company). So before you reinforce this policy, you need to get get rid of all known violators even if one of them is your best employee. We had a large company locally that ended up firing half of the staff for accessing porn at work. I am sure they were not thrilled but once one was found, then the others had to be fired as well.

In the future, if you are in the US, it is often to the company's benefit to let people go with out stating a cause. There are far fewer ways to get into trouble when you do this.

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    "We had a large company locally that ended up firing half of the staff for accessing porn at work. I am sure they were not thrilled but once one was found, then the others had to be fired as well." Why did they have to fire them all? Could they not have reprimanded them? – sleske Sep 18 '17 at 8:11
5

Address it, by just telling them that it was necessary but that the details are confidential.

Don't let it be an un-spoken elephant in the room. Say something about it. Say what's necessary to say, while making it clear that revealing the details is not appropriate and not their business.

Reassure them that they should not perceive this person's departure as a signal that their own situations are precarious.

I assume the fired person was given a chance to correct the behavior? And was fired after failing to do so?

If any of the remaining staff ARE displaying similar behavior to the fired person, deal with that on its own, with that person. At that point, it's not even about the fired person, it's about the next person. Make that their business - you don't even have to say "that's why the other person got fired", all you have to say is "YOU are on thin ice".

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    I agree the most with this answer. Discussing the specifics is unprofessional. However, by remaining silent then the first thing people will start to wonder is if they are next in part of a larger layoff. – John Sep 15 '17 at 17:04
3

You may say "There are details which I may not disclose that brought me to terminate this employee".

Then, in a few weeks, update the code of conduct to include the actions of this employee to be among those which are unacceptable without naming the person.

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    If that persons actions were not already in the code of conduct as prohibited then updating the code of conduct may open you up to trouble. Clarifying that an action is already prohibited though is quite common. IE if online gambling is already prohibited, clarifying that the policy includes fantasy sports like Draft Kings – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 13 '17 at 18:42
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    Or a side thought might be, hold a mandatory meeting that hits on the unwanted behavior as well as others as to not single out that particular behavior – CraigR8806 Sep 14 '17 at 11:03
2

When I fire someone because of a behavioral problem he has,

For my answer I will assume this means you gave him warnings in private and he did not change this behavior prior to firing him.

Teammates may feel that I'm an irrational person who fires people for random reasons, or rumors may spread about why I did it.

You are not free to discuss these private details with your team. Other answers explain why, I will not repeat it here, it's simply not professional. And quite frankly, the team doesn't care that much about the nitty gritty details. Sure, it's curiosity, we all have it. But what they really want to know is "is my job safe, or will I be next?".

From their point of view, you just fired somebody out of the blue. They don't know about the prior warnings, they need to know that it wasn't a spontaneous thought you had when you came in today. You gave ample warning and the employee did not comply. You need to communicate, that despite what it looks like, you will not fire random people on the spot. Everyone who is in danger of getting fired will get a private warning from you first.

This solves most of their morale problem. It does not solve your personal "I don't want to go through that with another employee" problem. If someone else does the same thing your ex-employee did, you will have to take them aside for a private warning as well. Hopefully, they will remember your little speech and take the warning more seriously, knowing that you do fire people if they don't comply.

1

When you fire someone you are also responsible for that person's privacy and reputation.
Since you do not say exactly what was the problem I assume he was not doing something illegal or extremely immoral. People can do mistakes for personal reasons in the workplace and as a manager you can decide to let them go. But do you want to damage their careers too by discussing personal matters? Your team members would be concerned with their relationship with you. If that person was a star in any way they may be curious but does not mean that they would have a right to know. And if they see a pattern where you just do whatever you want and your manager does not stop you well then they would realize where they work.....

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    @BoogaRoo: what does this have to do with my answer? – smith Sep 14 '17 at 21:16
1

In a small company (10 employees, 2 contractors) I was a contracted to, three people left the same day—all of them highly regarded employees.

I had been away that day (personal holiday) and returning, I noticed a distinctly bad atmosphere which no one was talking about. I inquired of coworkers but received little information. I sat in my office totally unmotivated (and thoroughly unproductive), wondering if I would be terminated in the next hours.

In a rare appearance in the back offices, the V.P. organized some cubicle cleanup from outside my office. He asked me how it was going, so I mentioned my concerns: he seemed surprised and concerned, then left. The president arrived a few minutes later and addressed the remainder of us. One person had been fired for unfortunately poor business judgment; their spouse (also an employee) chose to resign, which he perfectly understood and agreed with. The third person had been about to resign for another distant job and thought that day was as good as any to do it.

For me, this was a night and day difference in atmosphere. Not saying anything about sudden disappearances was debilitating for morale for the whole team. Understanding it had nothing to do with anybody else made the rest of the day sparkle with the knowledge that all was well. There was no need for total details, but it was good that there was a hint of what they did wrong so everyone got some education about where the good/bad line was.

0

Everything depends if the employee actually was stupid enough to tell that e was fired. normally there is no reason to disclose the fact that somebody was fired at all.

If it comes to light in the team that he was fired then the only explanation should be that keeping him in the team would not have been good for the team, together with the instruction not to speculate about the details.

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