When your business reaches a point that you can start hiring employees, it can be an exciting time. But what happens when one of those team members isn’t quite working out? Many small business owners struggle with the task of letting someone go. Agonizing over it. Feeling guilty. Often putting it off for weeks or even months.

The good news is, terminating an employee doesn’t have to be something negative or nasty. Sure, it’s not the most pleasant experience, but there are ways you can do so with grace and empathy. Here’s how.

Don’t blindside them.

Oftentimes an employee who is underperforming doesn’t even realize that’s the case. Finding out they’re being let go due to poor performance can be shocking and send them reeling. This can all be avoided by providing regular and ongoing feedback. In many instances, you may even be able to help the struggling employee turn things around if you just take the time to provide support and guidance.

If you’ve got an underperformer on your hands, here’s how you can help:

  • Examine yourself and your processes to see if that’s part of the problem.
  • Open the lines of communication.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them reach their fullest potential.
  • Take action based on their answer.

If you’ve done all of these things and the employee in question is still not producing, letting them go shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, which will make the conversation less charged.

Help them find another opportunity.

Another way to ease your conscience when firing someone is to take proactive measures to help them transition to another gig (hopefully one that’s a better fit). If you’ve worked with the employee for a while, you probably know his or her strengths. Offer to assist them in finding a company or position in which they’ll be able to use those strengths to excel.

Taking that extra effort may pay off in more ways than one. For instance, the employee might move on to another company and, because of the positive experience and kindness you showed, may recommend your business to the new company (if you are B2B) or to his or her friends and family (if you are B2C). In other words, not burning bridges and going the extra mile could result in more business for you down the road.

Help them save face.

One major reason a termination can go south is embarrassment. This is especially the case with smaller companies where word travels fast. To diffuse the situation, consider offering to help with the narrative a little. In other words, position the firing as something mutual so your employee can save face with his or her peers.

Obviously, this won’t work if the employee has committed a serious offense, but if he or she is leaving on relatively good terms and it just didn’t work out, there’s no reason you can’t put a more positive spin on it for the sake of their pride.

Firing someone is never fun, but it’s par for the course – especially as your business grows. Applying the above strategies and changing your approach can help you make the best out of an unpleasant situation, both for yourself as well as your employee.