Expressing your condolences is always hard, no matter who you are trying to comfort. It is especially difficult if that person is your boss. Differing power dynamics and workplace expectations make the navigation of sympathy etiquette in the work environment a very grey area. However, your boss is still human, and probably hurting. If you’d like to express your condolences but do not really know how to go about it, we’ve got six simple dos and don’ts to help you keep your sympathy etiquette perfectly professional as well as sincere.
#1. Do Keep the Tone Professional
This should go without saying, but if you’re in a work environment then you should strive to keep things polite and professional at all times. Engaging with someone on an emotional level does not mean that the professional barriers are all suddenly lowered. Always be professional, courteous, polite and respectful when dealing with not only your boss, but everyone you work with.
#2. Do Be Aware of the Time and Place
If you’ve been working there for any length of time, you probably know that some locations are better than others for having important or discreet discussions. Try to offer your condolences at a time and place that does not inconvenience your boss. Bringing up a very painful subject for them in the middle of the office, or during a meeting, is probably not a good idea. Waiting for the right moment to speak to your boss privately is not only good sympathy etiquette, but good business etiquette in general.
#3. Do Give a Card
There are a lot of benefits to giving a sympathy card. The recipient can read it at their leisure, in the time and place of their own choosing. They can also have their own private reaction to your message. Also consider giving a card if your boss is emotionally shy, reserved, or you think they may prefer to deal with condolences privately. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their painful moments in public. A card is a great way to maintain sympathy etiquette while showing that you truly care.
#4. Do Personalize, Without Making It Personal
You probably know your boss’ loved one’s name. Use it when speaking about the situation in order to personalize your message. Other than that, try not to bring up extra life details that your boss might not have made public knowledge. If you’re on good enough terms to know a lot of extra details, then wait until outside of work to speak with them.
#5. Do Not Give Advice
When someone is struggling to balance their emotions to begin with, one of the last things they want to do is balance new advice given from someone outside of their situation. Giving advice could really stress your boss out even more, and is not good sympathy etiquette. Plus, due to the business hierarchy, your boss may or may not take kindly to advice. The one exception here is that if your boss asks for your advice directly, then of course give it.
#6. Do Not Talk About Yourself
It is human to try and relate to what someone is saying. A common phrase people use is “I understand.” Now, you could really understand or just be saying so. However, either way, saying you understand diminishes the other person’s feelings somewhat. Instead, try not to talk about yourself at all. Ask your boss how he/she is doing. Focus on their current pain and let them know that you are there for them if they need someone to speak to.
Sincere Sympathy Etiquette
Sympathy etiquette in the workplace is a tricky thing to navigate, especially when the person concerned is your boss. Remember that they are human, and that you are still in a work environment. If you need help picking out a sympathy card for your boss, we at Comfort Company have got a vast selection of professional sympathy cards. We’d love to help assist you. Contact us today with any further questions. We are here for you.