A Meaningful Goodbye

As I left an energizing client offsite in Budapest last week, I realized how often I find myself in the position of saying goodbye. As a coach, I find often myself in the position of starting or ending relationships – whether with individuals, companies or even in the MBA classes that I teach. The nature of my work is cyclical, where for a few months or even a few days, in the case of workshops or seminars, I enjoy a productive, deep and intense relationship and connection with people. And then we say goodbye. Sometimes for good. In our work lives, saying goodbye is getting more and more frequent as we move through departments, countries, teams and companies.
Most of us fall into two categories of saying goodbye:
1) Dreading it – we hate the feeling and so just avoid saying goodbye
2) Rushing through it – we go into a default mode, as we rush past what is ending to the next thing that is beginning.
As a result we often miss opportunities to truly engage and connect with people by saying goodbye in a meaningful way. So what can you do to make this less grueling? I have found three tips that help me the most:
1. Prepare for the occasion. All of us know when the end is near, but we hate the uncertainty and abruptness of it all, and so we gloss over it. Is this all? Can l move on? So actually take a few minutes to think through these questions: How does this training/meeting/relationship fit into the larger picture of my life? What was the takeaway and how do I feel about it? I’m not suggesting a big long process here – just a couple minutes of intentional thinking which will give you clarity. Preparing in this way allows you to make visible the full range of emotions you are feeling and to react or behave in a manner that is consistent with your true feelings and character. It allows you to behave intentionally rather than through default behavior of fear and awkwardness. As you continue this practice, it gets faster.

2. Manage and Express the Emotions. Just identifying and giving a name to the emotions has a calming effect. However, expressing your true intent to the rest of the team or business partner is what creates the “sense of an ending”, to use Julian Barnes’ term. With individual clients, I send a short worksheet before our last meeting to help them think about what they have learned/gotten through this process, how they have changed and what it means in the context of their lives. And I do the same. Depending on the person, we can spend from 5 minutes at the end of the last session to over an hour discussing this. But when we leave, there is a connection — a sense of belonging and purpose of our time together. And this is the purpose of closure. In bigger groups, taking a few minutes of personal reflection and then sharing with a partner achieves the same purpose. On a personal level, just acknowledging gratefulness for the time spent together with another person goes a long way in creating a connection and is always well received.

3. Accept that things move on. When we are working successfully with others, we enter into a rhythm, a flow. We feel connected, energized and powerful. Unfortunately, when that relationship comes to an end, we feel a let-down, a sense of being empty and so perhaps that interferes with our readiness to say goodbye. This is a normal feeling, and if we accept that the emotions we are feeling are actually appropriate to the occasion, we are less anxious about it.
As a society, we tend to avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable or awkward. But learning to stand in discomfort is not only a key skill to acquire, but it has a high ROI with respect to personal closure, wisdom and poise.



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