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Give Notice, Offer Thanks: How to Say Goodbye

The end of a business relationship is just as important as the beginning.
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Hollywood was titillated on Aug. 18 as a departing William Morris Agency assistant's farewell message to his colleagues made the rounds of mock-scandalized email forwards.


letter, which offered a glimpse into the usually secretive world of talent agencies, was naturally discussed ad nauseum -- it was such a slow news week that the tempest-in-a-teapot even made the

L.A. Times

on Aug. 25.

While the letter itself offered more heat than dish -- it outlined such "rare" events as attempting to pick up a colleague at a holiday party and making a fool of oneself with a celebrity -- it did succeed in bringing up a juicy morsel of etiquette: the art of saying goodbye.

In a nutshell, a skillful goodbye establishes closure (even if you'd rather not go), thanks colleagues for their support (even if it was hard to detect), and leaves the door open for future contact (even if the foreseeable circumstances for a reunion are vanishingly narrow).

Like the

constructive criticism model discussed previously, this formula uses a softened start-up and an open ending. Unlike this model, however, it should not present any "evidence," for that might imply criticism -- and your boss is perfect in every way, especially now.

What to Say

Begin any farewell messages, whether written or oral, with something positive -- thanks for the accomplishments and the camaraderie you've enjoyed at the company are obvious choices -- and then end on a high note, with a laugh if at all possible.

Pass along the dates of your departure and any future contact information, and then call it a day.

Remember, unlike the mistaken agency assistant, you want your farewell letters to conform, because those that fail to do so will be forwarded. Actually, even the ones that do conform will be forwarded, but if the only snark on the page is someone else's, you can still escape censure or, worse, becoming a cause celebre.

Farewells can be sent out in bulk to general acquaintances at your office and any other companies you worked with closely, but be sure to reinforce stronger relationships with more personal communiques. Use them to subtly underscore your accomplishments together and to highlight your rapport.

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A farewell is not the time for criticism, even subtly implied critique: It's too likely to stick, leaving your colleagues and bosses to heed the message but kill the messenger.

Besides, if the fat lady's already singing, the time for discussion is over -- your job now is to keep communications warm so that your good reputation lives on despite your corporeal absence.

The Rewards of Holding Your Tongue

When things end badly, it's hard for anyone concerned to recall the good times, but if you make a clean getaway, it's much more likely that you'll continue to receive referrals later. Like the showbiz greats say, leave 'em wanting more.

Like a lunch

negotiation or a well-run

meeting, the end of a business relationship is a critical juncture at which it must not sour, especially when the milk of everyone's human kindness is being subjected to the acid test of rejection.

If you're rejecting your tenure at the company, your stake in keeping it light is that much greater -- no sense rubbing anyone's noses in it if your departure gains you a promotion or a fat raise. After all, you never know when you'll need to hire your old colleagues away from their misery, or vice versa.

Two years from now, you'll want your farewell to have closed the door -- but left it unlocked.

Just in case you ever need to ask a favor, to get a recommendation or to be invited back at twice the salary after the ignorant new regime moves on (it does happen), you want your image to remain squeaky clean. But you knew that already: As Miss Conduct has taught, treat everyone as if he or she were still

your boss, and if you can't be funny, at least be flattering.

As usual, the principle is to keep the recipients of your goodbye comfortable enough to remain focused on their work. If your soon-to-be ex-boss is so benighted as to forgo an exit interview, don't fret. Confidently carry your knowledge of the company's weaknesses to its competitors as you find a new situation.

Don't waste your breath there discussing the avoidance of similar problems in the future -- it'll wear out your welcome. Besides, you don't want them to get free advice; you want them to hire you as a consultant when it happens again.

Read more of Miss Conduct's best advice at Her amanuensis, Lisa Moricoli Latham, is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, and has contibuted to The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and