You only know Jane to talk to her in the hall between your offices. You may send her an email occasionally about a job-related question or say “hello” in a company-wide meeting once a month. Just last week you heard her father died and you’re scheduled to have a meeting with her in a few days. You’re already feeling uncomfortable because you’re not sure what to say or how to act with someone who just suffered a loss.
Should you bring up the subject at all? Should you offer condolences? Should you get a card or buy flowers? Dealing with such a serious subject with a co-worker can be complicated.
Consider Your Relationship
If you only see Jane in passing and never have one-on-one conversations with her, it’s perfectly acceptable to not make mention of the situation at all. In fact, it may make her feel just as awkward as you. She doesn’t know you well and may not feel comfortable discussing such a personal subject.
On the other hand, if the co-worker is someone you know well and eat lunch with or have regular meetings, you should broach the subject at an appropriate time. Avoiding it will be all too obvious, and it may make it awkward for both of you to talk to each other.
Consider the Situation
If you won’t see the person other than passing in the hall for a few weeks, it may be fine not to bring up the topic.
However, if you are scheduled to have a meeting with them a week after the funeral, you may want to offer quick condolences. It could be a simple “How are you doing?” which the person will understand the underlying meaning.
If you arrive at the meeting early, you could say something short and sincere like “I heard about your dad, and I just want to say I’m sorry.” That’s it. No need to say more, but Jane will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Consider the Method of Offering Condolences
You probably don’t want to talk about the person’s loss in a group situation. If you never talk to the person alone, it’s probably best not to bring up the loved one’s death. On the other hand, you will want to say something if you see them in an individual situation.
One of the best ways to offer condolences in a work environment is to send an email. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, but offer a few words to show your support and to let them know you are aware of their situation. Keep it short and to the point. You may say something like the following:
“I heard about the death of your father, and I wanted to give my condolences. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
“I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your dad, and I’ll be glad to take some extra work if you need the help.”
Just knowing the person has people who care and support them at work can make coming to the office every day a little easier for someone who just lost a loved one.
Suzie Kolber is a writer. Her site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.