So reden Sie am Telefon über schwierige Themen

How to talk about difficult subjects on the phone

Sie haben erfahren, dass die Tochter eines Geschäftspartners verunglückt ist, der Vater eines Kollegen gestorben ist oder aber dass die Frau eines geschätzten Kunden sehr krank ist. Wenn Sie in einer solchen Situation bei dem Betreffenden anrufen müssen, ist Fingerspitzengefühl gefragt. Lernen Sie, wie Sie sich auf Englisch in solchen und ähnlichen schwierigen Situation angemessen ausdrücken.

Most of the time, we don’t know if the person on the other end of the line is going through a personal upheaval like a bereavement, a serious illness or a difficult divorce. Sometimes we would prefer not to know, because it makes it awkward.

What do I say?Should I sayanything at all? Is it really my business? Although it might be difficult, it is not only good manners but also  just plain nice to offer a few words of sympathy or condolence to the other person, no matter whether we know them well or not. Unfortunately,  there is no set formula as to what  to say when you are talking to someone who is just going through a difficult time.
Secretary Today recommends you follow these four guidelines:


Four guidelines for offering sympathy or condolence to a business associate or colleague

1 Say what you think

What you think will, of course, depend on your relationship to the person you  are talking to. But whatever your relationship is, make sure  your words  are  sincere and from the heart.

2 Keep it short

Unless you are sure, the other person wants to talk, don’t prolong the conversation.


3 Don’t be nosy

Don’t ask for details of what happened. Just say you’re sorry.


4 Don’t say how bad you feel

If someone has suffered a loss they will feel bad. Don’t make them feel worse by saying how bad you feel.


Here are some useful phrases for various situations.

If someone is seriously ill or has had an accident

  • I was very sorry to hear about your bad news.
  • I’d like you to know you’re in our thoughts.
  • This must be a very difficult  time for you. We are thinking about you.
  • Do please give him my very best regards.
  • Mr Rossmann sends his very best regards and says he is thinking about you.

If someone has died

  • I was very sorry to hear about your loss.
  • I was very sorry to hear about your wife, John.
  • Please know that I am thinking about you.


How to get down to business  

Once you have expressed sympathy or made your condolences, you need to get to the subject of your call. Here are some useful phrases.

If you are the person calling

  • I’m sorry to have to trouble you at a time like this, I just wondered whether you’ll be coming to the next meeting.
  • I know you have a lot on your mind, so I’m really sorry I have to ask you about the latest figures.


If the person called you

If  the  person  called  you,  express your sympathy at the end of the call.

  • By the way, I heard about your loss. I’d just like to express my sympathy.
  • Before you han  up, I’d just like you to know I’m thinking about you.


Can you talk about difficult subjects on the phone?

Eine Kollegin hat ihren Mann verloren, die Frau eines Geschäftspartners ist schwer erkrankt, ein Kollege hat familiäre Probleme. Wenn Sie in solchen Situationen anrufen müssen, ist Fingerspitzengefühl gefragt. Können Sie das nötige Feingefühl zeigen und trotzdem professionell sein? Finden Sie es mit
dieser Aufgabe heraus.

When you have to phone a colleague or business associate who is going through a difficult time it’s good manners and also nice to offer a few words of sympathy or condolence before getting down to business.


Are these statements true or false?

1A colleague has lost his mother. If you phone her, you should not talk about it unless she mentions it. 
2 If someone has had an accident, always ask for details.  
3 Don’t say how bad you feel.


Now join these halves of sentences together to make professional and kind expressions of sympathy and condolence.

1 I’d like you to knowa) my very best regards.
2 I’d just like to expressb) you are in our thoughts.
3 Mr Schulzc) your bad news.
4 I was very sorry to hear aboutd) very difficult time for you.
5 By the way,
e) my sympathy.
6 Please do give himf ) sends his best regards.
7 I’m sorry to trouble youg) on your mind.
8 I know you must have a lot
h) I heard about your sad loss.
9 This must be a
i) at a time like this.


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1 – b, 2 – e, 3 – f, 4 – c, 5 – h, 6 – a, 7 – i, 8 – g, 9 – d