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The Hardest Note to Write

Some of us think writing sales letters, cover letters, or requests for donations is the hardest work imaginable. But this week I wrote the most challenging kind of delicate message: condolences to someone who had lost a coworker through suicide.

Because I knew very little about the situation (very little had been shared), I could only write a brief note to convey my sympathy. I could not touch on anything to do with the deceased, his death, or his life. I knew only that he was a male coworker. My short message went something like this:

Dear ______,

Please accept my sincere sympathy on the tragic death of your friend from work. I am very sorry that he is no longer with you.

No doubt this sad event has been very disturbing for you and for the many other people who knew and cared for him. I am thinking of you and them in this time of loss and bereavement.

With sympathy,

As I have written in earlier posts about messages of condolence in times of death and destruction, it is best to avoid spiritual and philosophical topics unless you are absolutely certain that your remarks will be welcome. Remember: The purpose of this message is to comfort the bereaved. Avoid comments that may cause discomfort or embarrassment.

If you are wondering whether to send this kind of message in a business relationship, take the risk. Sending a note or card creates the opportunity to connect with another human being who may be suffering. It reduces isolation and may establish a bond between you and them. At the very least, it shows that you care enough to communicate.

Note: This month our e-newsletter, Better Writing at Work, focuses on the human side of business writing. You can subscribe for free.

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

One comment on “The Hardest Note to Write”

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