Question :

Hey Danny – what do you do when your candidate after my follow up who just passed the guarantee period with a Fortune 500 company tells you:

“Just between us…I am not really happy here. It’s starting to feel a bit like prison… 🙁 So if you have other similar positions I may consider moving in a few months. But not before you receive your bonus for this transaction. 🙂 If you’d like, please give me a call tonight after 7pm, I will discuss with you in more detail.”

My response was: “Thanks for your feedback. Sorry to hear that you have had a bad experience. Unfortunately there is not much I can do for you – but to recommend for you to talk with your hiring manager about this after you give it a bit more time to see if things get better.”

Anything else I should have done to cover it better?

My Response:

While you handled this like a virtuoso from an ethical point of view, from a consultative, empathetic point of view, you were tone deaf.

He/she is not leaving. At least not anytime soon. (When they are leaving you don’t get a call from them, you get a call from your client saying they quit and they want a refund.) He/she is in that early stage where they 1) are not close enough to their boss or coworkers to discuss fears or concerns 2) don’t want to freak out their spouse or significant other that the big change they agonized over looks like a misfire and 3) yet feel the very human desire to vent, to whistle past the graveyard, the business world sanctioned version of Mommy pulling up your covers and reassuring you the sound was the wind, not monsters. That job is yours.

I would have said, sure, let’s talk. Then I would have called him/her that night and started with, “So it feels like a prison. Wow. I’m hoping that is just hyperbolic imagery because I assure you it wasn’t on the job description they sent me. Prison? Really? Like they won’t let you leave? You have to rattle a cup across bars to get coffee? Is there a sadistic warden? Did they put you in the hole? I don’t even want to hear about the showers. Talk to me.”

Hear the story. Don’t interrupt. Don’t tell him/her they are wrong. They don’t want you to fix it, they want you to listen. To say, “There, there.” (I of course never knew this when I was married, when orange was orange and not the new black, but it’s true of all relationships. People want to be heard more than they want solutions. Being heard is the solution.)

When they finished, if they didn’t already say (and I promise they would!), “You know what, I’m just edgy, and probably exaggerating. Let me give it a few weeks. I just wanted you to know, and I wanted to make sure you got paid,” I would say, “You do what is right for you, because what is right for you is what is right, period. Don’t worry about me. But I appreciate the sentiments. Look, if you feel this is make or break, talk to your boss. If it comes from me, it will cause whistleblower resentment and you’ll never get to the real issues. Let me know what happens. Ethically, I can’t work with you while you are still there. My suggestion, for what it is worth, is you can always leave. Try to fix it first. But you do you.”

You have a high ethical standard and that is fantastic. And I would never suggest you compromise those standards. I’m saying I have learned, embarrassingly late in the game, that making sure people feel heard is the highest form of ethics.