giving and accepting compliments
You and everyone you work with need occasional pats on the back. Corporate executives hire consultants and take courses to learn how to give compliments, but the real key is to be an empathetic person, capable of feeling with and for others. This is no touchy-feely exercise. Paying compliments when and where compliments are due is a kind of day-to-day justice. Saying “Well done” or “Good job” to coworkers raises their spirits a notch or two; it also communicates that you are a thoughtful and observant person, capable of giving and sharing credit where it is deserved. Just don’t overdo it; handing out compliments too freely and too frequently devalues both your words and your sincerity.
Receiving compliments graciously is hard for many people. Taught from childhood not to be show-offs, they have the impulse to negate good comments by going into great detail about why the compliment is undeserved. But this kind of modesty rings hollow. In fact, a momentary burst of genuine immodesty (“I did handle that well, didn’t I?”) is usually preferable to the calculated obsequiousness of rejecting a reasonable compliment.
Two simple words can solve all compliment dilemmas: “Thank you.”
what to say when…
Someone becomes engaged or married
“Congratulations,” “Best wishes,” “All happiness.” Genuinely wish your coworker well. Don’t be too inquisitive about his or her choice of spouse (that’s what in-laws are for), and don’t be too free with marriage advice or horror stories.
Someone is pregnant
Be happy for your coworker, but don’t pry. Avoid giving advice that may conflict with current medical opinion; future parents need confidence in their physician, and it is unfair to undermine that relationship even from the best intentions. Also refrain from sharing terrible labor and childbirth stories.
A miscarriage is a death that requires grieving. Be sympathetic by recognizing the depth of the loss. Never offer up phrases such as “It was for the best” or “It was just God’s will.” And never, under any circumstances, imply that the miscarriage may have resulted from something your coworker did or did not do.
Divorce is another kind of death. It’s better to listen than to talk, although you might offer practical advice (such as how to find child care or file income tax as a head of household) when needed.
Someone is ill
If a coworker or a coworker’s relative is seriously or terminally ill, your actions will speak louder than words. Show sympathy by helping the person on the job. Don’t complain about absences form the office. Be alert should anyone else try to undermine your coworker’s position during an illness or loot his or her office or files. (It happens.) Keep the person informed about business happenings.
When a coworker loses a loved one, write and speak your condolences. If you are close, attending pre-funeral and funeral services will be comforting. But merely working with someone is not a reason to take a funeral day off. Never make comments such as “It was really a blessing” or “Be thankful his suffering is over.” Offer practical assistance where you can, and be understanding. The death of a loved one will change your coworker, so don’t expect him or her to bounce back in the space of a few weeks to become the person you used to know.
Someone is fired or downsized
Be sympathetic, but don’t prolong the agony by talking it into the ground. Accept your coworker’s official explanation for a firing, and don’t engage in speculation. If you can give practical assistance, do so -- a recommendation, help with a resume update, information on other job openings. But don’t let sympathy lure you into encouraging or participating in destructive behaviors such as binge drinking or firing off threatening letters. Finally, don’t be surprised if a former coworker drifts out of your life; he or she needs to move on, and because you are still part of the old workplace and old hurts, you may be left behind.