how to reach out to a coworker who was fired

A reader writes:

What is the appropriate etiquette for reaching out to a colleague who was unexpectedly fired?

A manager I used to work under was recently let go from our organization. We weren’t “friends,” but this manager served as a mentor for me and we had a great professional relationship. I’d love to reach out and continue to stay in touch. What would be an appropriate way to do so? Additionally, would the approach be any different if reaching out to a peer versus someone in a leadership role?

Do you have her personal email address?* If so, I’d send an email very similar to one you might send to a colleague who left the organization any other way. If someone left voluntarily and you didn’t have the chance to talk to them before they were gone, what would you say? That’s what you want to say here.

If you’re wondering whether you should reference the fact that she was fired, generally the answer is no. It might be tempting to express sympathy, but that can be pretty awkward for her (and can put you in a difficult position if she’s angry at your company). If she was laid off (as opposed to fired), the situation is a little different — people are generally more comfortable being open about that, and in that case you might more directly reference it.

Either way, the email might sound something like this:

“Jane, I was so sorry to hear you’ve left Teapots Ltd., and I want to make sure we don’t fall out of touch. I’ve greatly enjoyed working with you, and your mentorship has been invaluable to me. (Optional: Include some specifics here about what she has taught you and/or that you admire about her.) I’ll continue to think of you as a mentor, and I hope we can stay in touch. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to be helpful as you look for your next role!”

And of course, if you really do want to keep in touch, you’ll need to take additional actions to make that happen, like checking in periodically, inviting her to coffee at some point, and so forth.

You can send this type of email both for peers and non-peers. Adapt the details to fit the context, obviously, but the overall tone and content are pretty much the same. No trashing your company for their decision, no embarrassing pity, just a message of “hey, I like you and want to stay in touch.”

* If you don’t have her email address, I’d see if you can find her on LinkedIn and contact her that way.

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