David Heinemeier Hansson

October 20, 2022

Don’t tell someone how to feel

Emotions rarely flow neatly from logic. That’s why we so often place the two in contrast. And why it’s foolish to try to tell others how they ought to feel. Emotions roam on sovereign ground, and foreign prescriptions feel like invasions. Rightfully so.

We’ve made this mistake for at least a decade at 37signals by trying to tell ourselves that “nobody should feel surprised if they’re let go”.  While it seems like a noble goal, it’s a poor one, because it’s not even remotely within our control. Even with the best of intentions and preparations, you still don’t have the power to control someone’s feelings. Especially feelings flowing from such consequential news as being let go.

In fact, not only is it presumptuous to believe this is even possible, it’s actually callous. It attempts to place an additional burden of serenity and immediate acceptance on the shoulders of someone already carrying the weight of a termination. Someone in that position should be free to be surprised. And mad. And sad. Regardless of the circumstances or the logic.

All we get to control are our own actions and intentions. Consider those carefully. Then let others be free from your expectations about how they ought to feel about that.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.