DEAR HARRIETTE: I work freelance, but I often interact with the same small crew of people. I was on a job with one of my co-workers, sitting at dinner after a long couple of days of work when he became visibly upset while talking on the phone. When he got off the phone, he told me that one of his longtime friends had just died. She was in her 50s -- kind of young to die, so obviously something bad had happened, though he didn’t say the cause of death. I expressed my sympathies for his loss, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. He is not a hugger, and we work together, so I didn’t want to cross a line. We were sitting in a restaurant having dinner, so the subject just changed to other things, but I feel bad. I don’t want to be the co-worker with no compassion. What else can I do or say? -- Lost a Friend, Miami
DEAR LOST A FRIEND: Tell your co-worker that you are not sure how to support him, even though you want to help in any way you can. If practical, offer to take on some of his responsibilities during his time of mourning. Tell him you care about him and that you are sorry if you didn’t express your feelings well. You want him to know that you are there for him in whatever way is helpful.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I met with an old acquaintance recently who was pitching a new business that he's working on. It's one of those multi-level marketing things. He is super excited and obviously he wants me to buy stuff from him, but even more, he wants me to join the business. I have absolutely no interest in doing either. I like him and give him credit for trying to make things work for himself after he lost his job a few years back, but part of me is irritated because I feel like he used his woe-is-me story to try to get me to spend money. Now he keeps calling and emailing with more pitches for what I should buy from him. How can I get him to back off without seeming rude? -- Enough, Salt Lake City
DEAR ENOUGH: Some people require direct, crystal-clear communication in order to respond appropriately. You can tell this man, either over the phone or via email if you must, that you are happy for him and his new business venture, but you will not be purchasing any products or joining his business. Wish him luck and end the communication. Do not promise to refer him to people unless you want him to keep contacting you. Do not promise anything at all. Just offer your good wishes for his success and put a period on it. If he continues to call or write, do not respond.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)