It’s sometimes really hard to know what to say to a coworker who is obviously upset about something. You want to help that person to feel better, but you might also be afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Author Deborah Grayson Riegel recommends that you avoid telling the person how they should be feeling. For instance, it may not be helpful to tell your coworker to “stop worrying” or “cheer up” (or, worst of all, “get over it”). 

Also, it’s generally not a good idea to offer advice unless your coworker specifically asks for it. Most people don’t want to be told what to do.

It’s much more effective to simply ask your coworker to tell you how they’re feeling, and then to really listen to what they have to say. Here are a few examples:

  • “You seem upset. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
  • “I can tell that you’re concerned about the situation. What’s worrying you most?”
  • “I know you’re still feeling angry/sad about what happened. What do you think would help you to start feeling better?”

Listen while they talk about their problems and feelings. Be sympathetic. Tell them that they are strong and resilient. And tell them that you’ll be there to support them when they need it.

If they get annoyed, don’t get offended. Just tell them that you’re sorry that they’re having a hard time, and remind them that you’re there for them. Then end the conversation. They’ll know that they have your support, and that’s a powerful thing.

Riegel, D. G. (2019, April 1). How to talk with a coworker who’s having a rough time. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: