Emotional Intelligence in the RIF Process

September 04, 2013 by Careerminds

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Layoffs –a word that can send employers fleeing to their lawyers. Company leaders can often get so wrapped up in the logistics of things that they forget that they’re dealing with real people, who will have real concerns and reactions. The preparation work that goes into conducting a reduction in force should be extensive. There are so many variables to consider and emotions are often either left to the wayside, or completely mishandled.

Emotional intelligence in business is all too often considered taboo, as if emotions are supposed to be removed from the workplace. The ridiculous notion that emotions have no place in business is a recipe for bad management. Whether we are aware of it or not, emotions play a huge part in every interaction and decision. Leaders should have an understanding of their own emotions and how they impact those around them. According to Rob Fazio, an Executive Emotional Intelligence professional, “The greater ability executives have to receive feedback, understand themselves, their people, and their situations, the more likely they are to choose an approach that will create the best result for their organization.”

Careerminds was pleased to have Rob Fazio host a webinar on leveraging emotional intelligence to succeed in business. His Executive Emotional Intelligence (EEI) model contains some great insights for any leader to consider when conducting a layoff.

Read Yourself

Leaders have read all the blog posts and manager guides on how to conduct a RIF, now they must learn to read themselves and those around them. Informing someone that they are no longer employed takes some tact.

Managers should:


  • Guide the situation with total self-awareness throughout the process.
  • Be aware of their emotional triggers.
  • What would cause them to act in an unfavorable way?
  • What might get them to engage in an argument?
  • Be aware that this isn’t about them.
  • Be aware of how they impact others.


Read Others

From the start of the RIF process right down to the end, managers should be listening to those unspoken ques. Nonverbal communication can often tell us more than verbal. As leaders gain EII, they are more likely able to predict reactions and outcomes. When leaders are able to read those around them, they are then able to gauge what their next steps, words and insights should be.

Reading Situations

As it related to conducting a RIF, reading the situation can mean knowing exactly whom you are meeting with, what they do and how long they have been with the company. Emotional intelligence means more than a canned speech, it means relating on human level. You will certainly handle the situation differently for an employee who has been with the company 6 months, than you would someone who has been there for years. Political awareness and the knowledge of power dynamics are important.

Reactions vs Responses

As leaders get better at reading themselves and others they will start to make more conscious responses rather than knee-jerk reactions. Thoughtful responses as apposed to emotionally driven reactions are what dictate the outcome of layoff meetings. Emotions can run high during a layoff meeting, and leaders can never be sure how the employee will respond to the news. Here are a few examples of reactions vs response from Fazio:


  • Reactive
  • Fast
  • Victim
  • Surprised
  • By chance
  • Based on emotions
  • Immediate
  • Lack of meaning

Strategic Responses:

  • Strategic
  • At your pace
  • Decision maker
  • Anticipated
  • Desired
  • Logic and emotion
  • Measured
  • Purposeful

Emotions are present in everything we do. All too often, leadership is told to ignore emotions, rather than study them. Layoffs are a fact of life and business, and they can be a source of many different emotions that can lead to countless outcomes. Leaders in this particular situation can ignore the power of EEI at their own peril. When conducting a layoff, having some degree of EEI can make a world of difference in the ability to successfully lead the organization through it.



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