Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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Delivering Bad News!

One of the greatest privileges afforded to humans is the opportunity to influence. – To impact the way someone feels or thinks to the extent that they choose to listen to us and do what we suggest.

When many of us think of people who have influenced us, we might think of a celebrity – a musician, athlete, or social icon. Or perhaps, fond memories and images of a teacher, coach, or kind neighbor come to mind. And hopefully, the memories we have are positive ones – moments when someone steered us along the right path by being a great example or changed our lives by validating us. Like all abilities, positively influencing others is often a choice we have to make. Indeed, we have to decide when and how to put this special ability to use.

A few months ago, a client called me to discuss an experience with a business partner that troubled her and left her unsettled. She had to communicate a change in process to the partner that would negatively impact the project. And she chose to share about the process change in an email – without acknowledging the potential disruption to the partner or soliciting his perspective. As might be expected, the partner was frustrated and expressed disappointment. My client also informed me that she built a great partnership with the partner and wanted to preserve the relationship. But now she was concerned the interaction would leave a sour taste in his mouth, and his trust would begin to wane. And she sought input on how to respond.

I was impressed with my client’s humility and desire to preserve the relationship. And as we discussed further, I was curious to know why she decided to share the news in an email. After a few minutes of conversation, it became apparent that she knew he would be displeased with the message. And she hoped that by casually sharing the news in an email, it would fly under the radar. Many of us can probably remember a time when we attempted to use this approach! We might also recall that this approach rarely bodes well for delivering bad news or strengthening relationships. And this begs the question, how does one effectively deliver bad news? While we may not have a magic recipe for this common problem, fortunately, we know one of the main ingredients – Empathy.

Many have described empathy as “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.” And this implies getting familiar with someone else’s thoughts and emotions to the extent that you can experience their feelings – both the triumphant and the painful ones. Although this might sound noble, “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” is no easy feat because it starts with admitting that we do not know – what someone else is thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

Also, it requires accepting that we might have different and possibly conflicting points of view. And this can be scary because it opens the door for disagreement and friction. But, by being empathetic, we can open up ourselves to understanding someone else’s position in a manner that strengthens the relationship while honoring our perspectives.

Because having and showing empathy requires humility to accept that we do not know everything, the emotional strength to entertain opposing points of view, and commitment to understanding a different perspective.
And while showing empathy might feel uncomfortable, we can rest assured that it will enable us to express challenging messages in a manner that strengthens our relationships and honors our perspectives.

Further reading: Empathy Rules by Sherry Turkle – Empathy Rules (hbr.org)

For you and to you,



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