How to write a professional sympathy letter

Building trust in your company and among staff members is an important duty for any business professional. Part of that task involves understanding that your employees’ personal lives can have a substantial impact on how they perform on the job. This is especially true when tragedy strikes, and your workers are thrust into the grieving process. Part of their healing processes involve the need to feel understood, and as their employer, you can factor into that. In my own experiences, I’ve found that sympathizing with employees not only helps them along the grieving process, but it creates a harmony in the workplace that’s essential for keeping everyone stress-free and productive.

Admittedly, offering your condolences can sometimes be uncomfortable. You never know if someone would rather have privacy or share their thoughts with you. The best course of action is to send sympathy cards. This way, you let them know you’re available to help in any way you can, but you also give them the necessary space they need to heal. Here are four rules to follow when you send your next sympathy card:

1. Be simple
There’s no need to get too fancy with your message, as the cover of the sympathy card will do that for you. Just write how you would normally talk to your employee or co-worker. Using language that’s too flowery can come off as dramatic or insincere, and that’s the last type of message you want to send to someone who’s grieving.

As with all professional business communications, the letter should be brief. The point of a sympathy message is to let the recipient know you are thinking of them and available if needed. Try to communicate that in a concise manner, so they can go back to the grieving process. They probably have a lot on their plate with making funeral arrangements or communicating with family members, so a short letter won’t take up too much of their time.

2. Be specific
Being specific in your sympathy message helps convey sincerity. Acknowledge the name of the deceased. If you don’t know this information, include the relationship the person had with the recipient of your letter. Perhaps that person lost a mother, father or even a dog. Taking the time to include details will make your sympathy letter that much more personal.

The rule of being specific also applies to how you say you’ll help the person. Don’t just write something generic like, “Call me if you need me.” Say you will stop by with dinner later, or that you’ll call them tomorrow. This way, you’re the one reaching out rather than making the grieving person ask for help.

3. Be sensitive
It can be difficult to think of what to say to someone who’s going through a rough patch in his or her life. When preparing to write your sympathy letter, try to empathize with the person. Imagine how you would feel if you were in his or her shoes. What would it be like to lose a loved one? How could you face the day with such heavy grief weighing on your shoulders? Imagining what they’re going through, though not entirely possible unless you’ve experienced that grief yourself, will help the appropriate words surface in your mind.

4. Be supportive
Though the sympathy letter serves to share in the recipient’s grief, you should also offer words of support and encouragement. Let them know that they can and will get through this tragedy, and you’ll be there to support them every step of the way. Give them time to grieve before coming back to work, so that they can be productive once they’re in the office.

By caring about the personal lives of your coworkers and employees, you’ll successfully build trust and collaboration in the workplace.