The Do’s and Don’ts of Offering Condolences to a Coworker

Watching a co-worker deal with the pain of losing a loved one is a heartbreaking and often challenging experience. You want to offer your support and condolences but don’t always know what to say or do. You feel helpless, so you may end up doing the wrong thing. Here are some dos and don’ts.

The Dos

Your colleague will feel appreciated, cared for, and supported when you do the right things. You’ll ease their pain and make it easier for them to get through this difficult time. How do you do this?

Send Them Flowers

A surprise sympathy flower arrangement on their desk is a great way to show your support and express condolences. You can also send the flowers directly to the bereaved’s home or address. 

Opt for flowers that convey a sense of comfort and compassion, like white lilies or pink roses. If they love sunflowers or bright colors, get them a more cheerful arrangement. Ask a reputable florist if you need help with what to buy.

Send a Card

A handwritten sympathy card expresses your sincere condolence and respect for the loss. You can include a special message that conveys support and comfort. If you’re unsure what to write, some online providers offer pre-written sympathy messages that you can use. Send the card to the bereaved’s home, attach it to the flowers or hand it to them in person.

Take Care of Some of their Work Responsibilities

Your coworker might need more time or energy to get through all the work and other issues, including planning the funeral. It will stress them when they still have to meet deadlines while grieving. Offer to take care of some of their work or at least help them out to ease the burden. Get their permission if they are very particular about their work. 

Let Them Know You’re There

Your colleague may feel overwhelmed and isolated during this time. Let them know you’re there for them whenever they need someone to talk to or just a shoulder to cry on. Check in with them and let them know you’re thinking of them, but don’t be intrusive or ask too many questions.

If you’re friends beyond the office, invite them for lunch or dinner to take their mind off things. You can also offer to do small errands for them, like getting groceries or picking up dry cleaning.

Do Something Special with the Other Colleagues to Make Them Feel Better

You can show your coworker that everyone in the office is thinking of them by organizing a special occasion to honor the deceased. It could be a small gathering or something more elaborate, like arranging a memorial service. You can also dedicate the next company event to their loved one and make it a meaningful celebration.

Watch Your Body Language

How you talk and act around your coworker impacts their grief. Body language speaks louder than words and conveys empathy or even aggression. Be mindful of your facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice when you talk to them. 

The Don’ts

No matter what you say or do, your coworker may not be in the right frame to receive consolation. But there are a few things that can make matters worse. Here are a few:

Don’t Pressure Them to Talk

Your coworker may not want to talk about the loss or the circumstances of their loved one’s passing. Even if they do, don’t pressure them to open up or share details if they don’t want to. Let them know you’re there for them and will listen without judgment. When all they talk about is their loved one, don’t interrupt or change the subject.

Don’t Offer Cheap Words

Your words should be genuine and heartfelt. Avoid saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or “it’s all part of God’s plan.” These can be offensive to some people, and they usually aren’t of much comfort. Instead, focus on the positive memories and offer words of comfort. Silence is also acceptable as long as they know you’re always there for them.

Don’t Try to Cheer Them Up

It’s natural to want to make them feel better, but don’t try to cheer them up with jokes or lighthearted conversations. They need time and space to mourn, so respect their wishes and be there for them without trying to fix the situation. Don’t try to give advice or tell them what they should do either. Grief is a personal journey that can last for a long time.

Don’t Compare to Your Loss

No matter how much you can relate to your coworker’s loss, don’t compare it to your own. They must express their grief without being judged or compared to anyone else’s experience. Be there for them and validate their feelings without making it a competition or turning it into a conversation about your loss.

Don’t Ask Them How You Can Help

Asking how you can help stresses them as they must think of how to answer nicely or what to ask for. Instead, show them you care and are there for them by offering your help practically. Tell them you’re there even when times are tough. Follow up to make sure they’re doing alright. 

Take up some of their work or tasks, or just lend them a listening ear. The effort goes a long way in helping them get through this difficult time. If they’re struggling financially, donate to their cause or offer a hand with arrangements.

Don’t Appear Out of the Blue

Consider your colleague’s communication preference or ask if it is okay to drop by for a surprise visit. Let them know you’re there whenever they need you, but don’t appear out of the blue or unannounced, as this is overwhelming. Also, some may find calls bothersome. Texts, emails, and cards are also a great way to stay connected without intruding on the grieving process.

Be Sensitive to Their Needs

Above all, be sensitive to your coworker’s needs. Show empathy and compassion in everything you do. Be patient if they are dealing with anger, guilt, or sadness. Don’t tell them to move on quickly or try to minimize their feelings. Even if you can’t solve their problems, they won’t feel like they are going through this alone.

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