Grieving is a real part of our lives and people handle death and grief in different ways. It can be confusing to know what to say and when to reach out and it can be especially difficult with someone you work with. Dealing with a colleague who is grieving can feel awkward because the lines of intimacy are different than with family and close friends. In times of grief, you want to express your concern without saying the “wrong thing.”
Here are some examples of things people say that maybe could be said better:
Instead of “She’s in a better place” say “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
The grieving person may not agree with you or want to think of their loved one in a different, albeit better, place. It’s better to keep it simple.
Instead of “At least she’s not suffering any more” say “Please know that I am thinking of you” or if you feel comfortable, offer a warm hug instead.
This statement may be perceived as trite or insensitive.
Instead of “How are you?” say “We’re glad to see you back at work. We’ve all been thinking of you.”
It can be difficult for someone to answer a specific question immediately after they have lost a loved one.
Instead of “Call me if there is anything I can do” say “Would you like to go to lunch with me this week?”
People in grief are usually consumed with emotion, even if they don’t show it. Instead of asking them to make another decision to call you if there’s anything you can do, put yourself in their shoes. Consider what would make their lives easier in this time of grief and offer that specific service. Even if the person turns down your offer, your kind friendship will be remembered and will mean more than you know.
Be careful about saying “I know how you feel.”
There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is when you understand and feel another’s feelings because you have experienced those emotions and can put yourself in their shoes. Sympathy is having compassion for a person; acknowledging their hardships and providing comfort and assurance. If you can relate in some way, you may want to briefly share your experience so the person knows you understand how they feel. However, keep the focus on their current loss.
Instead of “What really happened?” say “you have my sympathy”. “I am sorry for your loss” or “I am thinking of you”
Try not to ask too many questions about the details on the cause of death. Getting too personal can be intrusive. The person will share what he or she wants you to know.
Dealing with a colleague who is grieving is not easy. Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s important to acknowledge someone’s loss.
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.