Your co-worker has just informed you that their parent has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You immediately feel sympathy towards them and you want to say something comforting. Yet it becomes difficult to express yourself as you search for the right words to say. In difficult circumstances it can be challenging to know exactly what to say so my advice is to say as little as possible. It is important to realize, once spoken aloud, your words become both a part of your personal history and a part of other people’s memories. Our words cannot be taken back, so release them with care. If you do go beyond a simple well wish or condolence keep it simple by offering practical assistance. Don’t be pushy though, just make it known and allow the individual to decide if they want to actually take you up on it. Here are a few examples of “What to say to a co-worker when…”
Someone announces they’re getting divorced.
Don’t say: “Well that’s okay, you’re better off without him/her”.
Do say: “I’m very sorry to hear that”.
Someone experiences the death of a loved one.
Don’t say: “They’re in a better place now”.
Do say: “My condolences to you and your family”.
Someone (or their wife) has a miscarriage.
Don’t say: “Maybe something was wrong with the baby and that was God’s way of handling it.”
Do say: “I am very sorry to hear that. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do.”
Someone is fired or laid off.
Don’t say: “Maybe this means that you’re going to find something better.”
Do: Be sympathetic and give practical assistance, such as a recommendation or information about other job openings. Give advice in moderation, don't overdo it.
Someone (or a relative) is sick or terminally ill.
Don’t: Complain about absences. Or ask too many questions.
Do say: "I'm very sorry to hear this. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers". Be sure to show sympathy by helping the person with their job.