What NOT to say to a grieving client

Andrea Howe
Category : Weekly tips June 15, 2015

This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently marked the end of her first 30 days of mourning for her late husband. Dave Goldberg died unexpectedly while they were vacationing in Mexico. On the last day of sheloshim, which marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse, she shared a compelling and beautifully-written post on … well, Facebook, of course.

Among other things, Sheryl’s essay includes extraordinary lessons for anyone struggling to find the best or right way to acknowledge another person’s grief.

If you haven’t known a client who has experienced a profound loss during the course of your relationship, it’s only a matter of time. When it happens, here are three simple Do’s and Don’ts that I culled from Sheryl’s thoughtful and heartfelt writing:

DON’T: Say nothing.

DO: Be honest if you don’t know what to say, as in, “I’m at a total loss for what to say.” Acknowledge the elephant in the room.

DON’T: Ask, “How are you?” (How do you think they are?)

DO: Ask, “How are you today?” It shows you realize the best they can do is get through each day.

DON’T: Assume hope is the most comforting thing you can offer and assure them everything will be OK, as in, “You and your children will find happiness again.”

DO: Speak the truth. Be willing to acknowledge that things are not OK, as in, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good.”

Wise advice shared by someone during an excruciating period of grieving. I, for one, will be sure Sheryl’s lessons don’t get lost.

Make It Real

This week, consider the people you’ve been avoiding because something awkward or uncomfortable has been in the way. Reach out. Life is short.

Learn More

Read Sheryl’s full post. 

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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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