A Foolproof Guide to Breaking Up With, Well, Everyone

Friends, jobs, barbers — here’s how to let ‘em down easy

By Kirk Miller

A Foolproof Guide to Breaking Up With, Well, Everyone
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14 February 2018

Today is a great day to talk about fresh starts.

Which means that first, we must talk about breakups.

Not the romantic kind, however — we’ve covered that before.

Rather, we wanted to know how to cut ties with all the other tiresome people in your life: roommates, jobs, clients, barbers, people on social media with bad opinions (e.g. “Die Hard is a Christmas movie”).

“Just like introductions, parting is a really important part in the arc of a relationship,” says Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of etiquette guru Emily Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 19th edition and The Etiquette Advantage in Business, 3rd edition and active member of The Emily Post Institute. “Life would be very difficult if things never ended! But you should end any relationship with integrity. Do you owe everyone an elaborate, therapeutic ending? No, but think of your relationships like a campsite: Leave it in better shape than when you found it.”

So we asked Senning — along with various CEOs, self-help authors, HR gurus, psychotherapists and one NYC barber — to answer the following.

What’s the best way to break up with ... ?

Barbers: The customer is entitled to move on [even if it's to a new chair in the same shop], so it's not necessary to say something. But if you do, it's sorta like that 'It's not you; it's me' thing: Don't lie. But do save face a little. Just tell them, 'Joe really understands my hair.' And this may go without saying, but don’t trash-talk the old barber to the new one. They will inevitably talk to one another, and it’s not a good look to badmouth an ex. — Justin Virgil, Blind Barber NYC

Clients: You know it’s time when it starts to feel like a bad personal relationship. If you have to break up with a customer, don’t go it alone. Make sure your leader (if that isn’t you) and your company are behind the decision. Make sure you have a plan for their transition, secure any necessary permissions, make good on any promises or open items, and communicate your intentions very clearly, both internally and externally. Try to do it in person (or at least over the phone), prepare for backfire, be ready to play counselor (as emotions may run hot), and finally, move on. — Sarah Stealey Reed, Editor-In-Chief of Relate by Zendesk

Employees: You never want to terminate an employee without giving them the opportunity to address performance concerns. This typically involves a conversation with management/HR to outline issues and options for improvement. If/when you do end up separating from the employee, be as clear and respectful as possible. Everyone should know what they are going to cover and the roles of those in the room should be clear. Map out what happens after the conversation (who is walking them to collect personal items, collecting badges, turning off electronic access, severance). HR is the leader of the room in a separation — they can guide both the manager and employee, who might be too personally/emotionally involved, through the entire conversation. — Theresa Fesinstine, HR consultant and former Vice President, Human Resources at News America Marketing, a division of News Corp

Employers: Don’t leave an employer in a bind. Leaving without notice or during a big project can be a disaster for your record. A two-week notice is standard for most entry-level jobs, but will increase based on the level and skill of your position. It’s important that you offer and follow through if the employer accepts. Don’t be surprised if the employer simply asks for you to pack your bags immediately. At least you followed proper protocol. —  Justin Lavelle, CCO for BeenVerified, a leading platform for background checks

Friends: Sometimes it’s kinder not to get into gory details if it would cause more pain or hurt to hash it out. There’s a certain dance here that requires care and awareness. It might require the delicacy of a phasing out and building an expectation of distance in communications. That might begin with not answering every text as quickly. — Daniel Post Senning

Friends from childhood: “So I’m thinking about going to Iran this summer...”  

Friends (with big issues): Be clear and assertive. Honestly tell them that you have different priorities in your life, and you need to pursue those. An example might be someone who is a recovering addict and can't hang around drug-using friends anymore. As you have this discussion, offer to bring your friend into those priorities (they may, for example, be willing to not use drugs around you and even support your recovery). If they aren't willing, explain that while you value their friendship, you will have to end it (or at least scale back) for your own good. — David Bennett, certified counselor, self-help author, co-creator of The Popular Man

Social media “friends”: Blocking is a big step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It sends a powerful message to the other party that you do not wish to be involved with them (possibly in any way whatsoever, including real life), and won’t be a message that’s well received by others. If you’re going to do so, do not engage in advance discussion. Simply make the change so as not to upset others and prompt confrontation, and be prepared for fallout: Your actions are unlikely to be well-received, and may cause feelings of anger and self-doubt. The goal, though, is to avoid drama  and be as brief and neutral as possible. The only exception: Close friends and family, where a constructive conversation may be advised in advance. In all cases, try to empathize and put yourself in others’ shoes as best you can, so you understand the impact your actions may have, and so you can address any concerns in a fair and kind manner. Scott Steinberg, speaker and author of The Business Etiquette Bible  

Players: Be straight with them. No fluff. Just facts.

Roommates: Have a detailed plan of when you’re moving and how you’ll handle the remaining financial issues (rent, utilities, etc.). Then, have a straightforward conversation with your roommate. Give plenty of advance notice — a month, if possible. When addressing why you’re moving out, keep the focus on yourself and how moving out will be helping you. “I’m moving out because I can finally afford my own space,” rather than “I’m moving out because you’re too messy and you eat all of my food.” Share some appreciative words with him/her to show that you valued your time as roommates. — Billie Bemis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Denver Center of Psychotherapy

Strangers at a party: [Shake hand] It was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for chatting. — Adapted from Ramit Sethi’s Ultimate Guide to Social Skills (Sethi is also good at getting you to cut rates, or ties, with your cable company)

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