When bad things happen to good coworkers, its often difficult to know what to do or say. Death, illness, or a major loss or personal tragedy can be tricky subjects, especially in the workplace. These situations are never going to be easy.However, there are some things to keep in mind to make them less awkward and truly help your colleague through a difficult time.
If you wait until you find exactly the right words or try to find a way to make the situation less painful, you’re never going to get around to saying anything, Potter says. In most situations, saying nothing is worse than conveying sincerely that you’re sorry this happened to the person, he says. If you have experience with a similar type of loss or tragedy, it may help to mention it if you’re comfortable—just be sure to be sensitive in doing so in a way that fosters connection instead of one-upping.
“You start by just acknowledging the loss. ‘I am so sorry this has happened to you. I’m so sorry this has happened to your child or to your loved one,’ or whatever the thing is, and make it specific,” he says. You don’t have to get into details or “fill in the blanks,” he adds. Usually just connecting in that very basic way is enough to bring comfort.
Common phrases like “Call me if you need anything” put the onus on the suffering person to find something and ask you to do it, Potter says. Instead, without being intrusive, try to anticipate the person’s needs and respond in an appropriate way. For example, drop off a meal or send a gift card that can be used for takeout if he or she is too tired to cook one night. Ask if you can stop by for a visit, or find a way to lend a hand if your coworker is in the office.
The key is to actively look for an appropriate action to take that will relieve the person of a small task or responsibility in an appropriate way and bring a bit of comfort, he says. Read more…