How to handle a professional break-up: a lesson by Naomi Osaka

Severing a professional relationship is much tougher than breaking up with a significant other. You can’t just ghost your boss or feed him/her the “I’m just not looking for a job right now” line over text. You have to handle the goodbye the good old fashioned way: face-to-face, ready to navigate the conversation in real-time and prepared to make a graceful exit.

What’s the most honest yet least offensive breakup line? How much emotion are you supposed to show? How many details must you divulge? How do you keep it amicable?

Though each job and work environment have their own nuances, tennis star Naomi Osaka just taught us a few basics.

In a move that shocked many in the tennis world, Osaka announced her split with her coach Sascha Bajin last week.

Bajin is renowned in the sport and has worked with stars like Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. He was named as the WTA’s coach of the year in 2018 after his success with Osaka; during their time together, she soared from number 72 in the world to number 1.

Despite the numbers, the two decided to split ways. Osaka cited the reason as not wanting her career to be about putting “success over happiness”.

So what can we learn from how she handled the separation? A few things:

Transparency is key

In a press conference with the WTA in Dubai, Osaka said:

“Everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn’t. That’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. I travel with everyone on my team, I see them more than my family. I would never do that to them. I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness […]– that’s my main thing. I’m not going to sacrifice that just to keep a person around.”

Don’t bother with the dirty details

“I would not want to split on really bad terms,” Osaka said. “I’m not going to say anything bad about him because, of course, I’m really grateful for all the things he’s done.”

Be grateful for the good times and lessons learned

A personal thank you note goes a long way.

Don’t feel guilty for putting your well-being first

Know what you want in a professional relationship:

“[I want] someone that’s kind of direct, not afraid to say things to my face.” Osaka said. “I’d rather someone say it directly to me than go around my back. That’s one of the biggest things.”

If the situation isn’t right, don’t feel bad breaking it off.