When someone you see every day, but don’t know intimately well – such as a co-worker, client, or customer, with whom you’ve had few serious or in-depth conversation – has suffered a loss or tragedy, it can be hard to know what to say to him or her. Here are a few simple ideas for offering comfort in a gentle and non-intrusive way, without causing any pain.
1. Apologize and ask if there’s anything you can do
These are simple steps and always appreciated, no matter what.
2. Don’t give large gifts – or any gifts at all, unless you’re sure they’re wanted
Many people feel uncomfortable receiving gifts from co-workers or casual acquaintances. If you feel strongly that you should make some sort of gesture, a small home-made item like a card or a few cookies is probably most suitable.
3. Be sensitive to the needs of the person you’re talking to
If they don’t seem receptive to talking, then never push it. Some people like to talk when they’re unhappy, but some simply don’t. If you find someone backing off from you, they may simply not want to open up to you. Don’t take it as an insult or an affront – they’re doing what makes them feel most comfortable, and you should respect that.
4. Saying, “it’ll get better,” isn’t always the right step
Neither is saying, “I understand.” Unless you know a person fairly well, it’s often a bad idea to compare your own sufferings with theirs – experiences differ, and you simply don’t know whether they’ll feel it’s appropriate. Always be delicate with these sorts of comparisons.
5. Don’t offer a hug or personal touch unless you’re sure it’ll be accepted
Cultural norms on when it’s all right to touch differ everywhere, often even among people who have lived near each other all their lives. If you want to give someone a hug or a squeeze of the hand, when in any doubt at all, always ask first, “Can I give you a hug?” or “Is touching okay?” It’s better to be safe than sorry.
It can be awkward to deal with the sorts of situations, but just a little effort and kindness can help create a gentler and more comfortable environment for everyone involved.