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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

The (Almost) Pain-Free Guide to Having the “I Quit” Discussion With Your Boss

two people having a conversation in a conference room with large windows and buildings in the background; one person is facing the camera in a green jacket
Bailey Zelena; Sarah Mason/Getty Images

Over the course of my career, I’ve had three “hey boss, I’m quitting” talks. One involved tears of sadness, one involved tears of happiness (though I saved them for after the meeting), and one involved my boss asking if I could take him with me.

All of them, though, involved a gut-wrenching feeling that was equal parts fear and guilt (and OK, maybe a little excitement). Sound familiar? Whether you’re thrilled to be leaving a job or sad to be departing from a company you really love, having that conversation is rarely easy.

There’s plenty of advice out there on the basics of how to put in your two weeks’ notice: Break the news, express gratitude for all the opportunities you’ve received, and show that you’re committed to transitioning your responsibilities. But let’s go a bit deeper on that first step. How do you actually tell your boss you’re quitting? And how can you make that conversation as low-stress as possible?

Here are a few steps to follow:

1. Remind yourself that this happens all the time.

You’re not the first person who’s ever quit, and you won’t be the last. So if you’re scared your boss will be shocked, throw a fit, or be personally offended, take a deep breath and repeat: This is a totally normal part of the working world. Not to mention, your boss might not be as blindsided as you’d think after weeks of “emergency dentist appointments.”

2. Prepare for the reaction you might get.

That said, when quitting a job you could receive a response you weren’t anticipating. It probably won’t be a screaming fit (I hope), but it might be a counteroffer or a guilt trip or a plea to try to get you to stay longer than the notice you’ve given. Read up on five common reactions to your resignation and exactly how to plan for each one.

Speaking of planning…

3. Plan out (and practice) the whole conversation.

I’ve definitely been so worried about the initial “So… I’m leaving…” line that I didn’t prep for anything else—and had to bumble my way through the rest of the conversation saying things like, “Um… I’m going to freelance? Maybe take some classes?”

So take it from me: Before you go in, make sure you’re ready for the entire conversation. Jot down some notes and do a dry run with a friend or family member. Or even just practice saying it out loud to yourself so you’re not trying to verbalize it for the first time on the spot.

Here are some key pieces of info you’ll want to work in:

The answer to “Where are you going?”

Expect to be asked where you’re headed. The trick to responding is to be honest, but brief—no one needs to know all the details of your new company’s awesome perks or just how much more you’re making.

If there’s a reason you can’t be totally open—or you just don’t want to be—that’s OK, but give as much information as you’re comfortable with. For example, “I can’t be public about it just yet, but it’s a marketing position at a startup where I’ll be doing highly creative social campaigns.” Or if you’re quitting with nothing on the horizon—I’ve done that too!—try something like, “I have several possible options, and I’m taking a few weeks off to recharge before I land.”

The date of your last day

Two weeks’ notice is generally the bare minimum, though if you have a high-level role, are in the midst of an extremely busy season or complex project, or aren’t easily replaceable, it’s worth thinking about giving a bit more.

Read More: Should You Ever Give More Than Two Weeks' Notice?

A preview of your transition plan

This, ultimately, is what your boss is worried about most: How will your work be handled once you’re gone? You don’t have to have a detailed transition plan yet (though you should get to work on that ASAP), but you should outline a few thoughts about what you’ll do in your remaining time on the job.

4. Set up a face-to-face meeting with your boss.

If at all possible, you should have this conversation in person—or via video chat if you and your manager don’t work from the same location. But if you can’t, a phone call is the next best bet. Just send your boss a message the morning you plan to quit that says something along the lines of “Hey, can we chat for 15 minutes today?” or “Do you have a minute to hop on Zoom?”

5. Psych yourself up by remembering the reasons you’re leaving.

When you’re approaching your manager’s office, it’s easy to remember all the reasons you should stay: Your coworkers aren’t that bad, and your boss really does need you at the event next month…

Stop. Reflect on your motivations not only for looking for a new job in the first place, but also for deciding to make this next move—a higher-level position, work you care about, more money, less stress, all of the above. Assuming you’ve thought through this decision and made it with eyes wide open, it’s likely a great move, and you’re going to feel amazing once this particular step is over.

Keep this feeling in mind as you walk in (or log on or dial) and it’ll help you stay calm, positive, and energized rather than panicked.

6. Plan to keep in touch.

Remember those bosses I mentioned above? I’m still in touch with all three of them. The world is small, and it’s common (and a really, really good thing) to maintain relationships with former coworkers.

So if part of your anxiety is actually sadness that you won’t be seeing these people every day, keep in mind that this isn’t the end of the road. There are plenty of ways to stay in touch, plus you may have opportunities to collaborate in the future—or heck, even work together again.

Having “the talk” is never easy. But I promise: Once it’s done, that overwhelming anxiety is going to be replaced by a wave of relief and happiness that the next thing is just around the corner.