Writing business condolence letters – in 7 steps

Writing a letter of condolence

When a loved one dies, close relatives and friends are happy to receive sincere words of sympathy. Heartfelt funeral cards, condolences or letters of sympathy can convey courage and comfort and be helpful to close relatives in the difficult hours following the death of a loved one. Above all, individual phrases that go to the heart convey care, love and sympathy. But how should a business letter of condolence be structured and written?? What should business partners pay attention to?

The situation is similar for a business letter of condolence. Sincerity and empathy are also important components in official condolence messages. Since in most cases the deceased was known as a business partner and less as a private person, it is much more difficult to find friendly, authentic and comforting words. This article addresses why it is professional and purposeful to write letters of condolence upon the death of business partners or employees. Furthermore, examples are given to illustrate how a business letter of condolence should be structured, why funeral or religious messages can be counterproductive and why empathy and authenticity are essential.

How and why to write a letter of condolence as a business partner?

The Duden dictionary defines a letter of condolence as a letter, "expressing sympathy to someone in the event of a death." Written condolences or bereavement cards show the bereaved that the deceased was an important and valued part of the community. Learning how family members, friends or business associates felt about the deceased and what they experienced with him or her can be heartfelt and provide comfort.

A business letter of condolence is also to be understood as a friendly and sympathetic gesture. With the letter, a company expresses its condolences to the bereaved, shows sympathy and pursues the goal of honoring the person, his qualities and life achievements.

A letter of condolence may be sent as a written expression of sympathy without prior personal condolence. It is also possible to intensify your words of condolence with a handwritten letter of condolence or a funeral card during a funeral service or after a funeral ceremony.

What should you pay attention to when designing a business letter of condolence??

Depending on how close the deceased business partner was to you or your company, a business letter of condolence can be written in a friendly, polite manner and with due restraint, or in a very personal way. When writing letters of condolence, it is also important to remember that private and authentic wording that conveys comfort and sympathy is the measure of all things. A funeral card with prefabricated funeral sayings without an individual touch has a negative and superficial effect and should be avoided.

A letter of condolence is not to be compared with a typical business letter. For this reason, a letter of condolence is usually written personally by hand with a fountain pen on high-quality stationery. The usual DIN rules for business correspondence do not apply to a letter of condolence.

The company’s stationery is not suitable for condolences, as it contains corporate colors, the company logo and other business-specific components that make a bad impression in a letter of condolence. A simple, high-quality letterhead emphasizes sincere grief and sympathy with loved ones.

Important: Envelopes with a black border for bereavement are offered in specialized shops. Using such an envelope for a business letter of condolence is a faux pas, as this type of bereavement mail is reserved exclusively for relatives.

Religious messages and funeral sayings

A letter of condolence is an important document, the content of which can be compared to personal condolences. When expressing sympathy and condolences to the relatives of business partners or employees at the grave of the deceased, make sure the words are reverent and come from the heart. Religious themes or funeral sayings can seem indelicate in personal condolences, so any statement must be well considered. The same applies to a letter of condolence. Good preparation for written expressions of sympathy guarantees that no statements are made in the letter that are explosive, hurtful or could be misunderstood by the bereaved.

For example, if it is known that the deceased or his family are not religious, well-intentioned Bible verses or Christian funeral sayings may have the opposite effect. For a business letter of condolence, for this reason, Bible quotes or Christian sayings should only be used if the spiritual beliefs of the deceased are known and evident. Similarly, quotes or funeral sayings should be used especially if you know the deceased would have been happy to hear them. Philosophical sayings or long poems do not belong in a business condolence letter.

Preparation is the key to success

As in many other areas of life, good preparation is also key to success when designing a letter of condolence. Before you start writing, you should think carefully about how well you know the deceased and how you can express your condolences in a way that is appropriate, sensitive and at the same time competent. Write the letter of condolence promptly after the news of the death becomes known.

7 steps: How to structure a letter of condolence?

The following structure as well as the accompanying sample formulations can serve as a guideline for your letter of condolence:

Step 1: Use an appropriate salutation

If you know the relatives and the deceased only slightly and the contact is purely business-related, you should begin your letter of condolence with: "Dear Sir/Madam".

In the case of a long-standing and purposeful business relationship, you should preface the letter with: "Dear Sir/Madam".

Step 2: Explain how and when you learned of the death

  • I was dismayed to read in the Passauer Nachrichten of 13.10.2021 read that your husband has passed away.
  • It was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of your husband.
  • The news of your husband’s death has caused me very great consternation.
  • I have been deeply affected by the death of your husband.
  • I am stunned by the heavy blow you and your family have suffered.

Step 3: Express your sympathy

  • I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to you, also on behalf of all employees.
  • We mourn with you the loss of a valuable and highly esteemed person.
  • I can sympathize with you, how painful the loss may be for you.
  • I can only guess at the depth of your grief and the extent of your pain.

Step 4: Express comfort and sympathy

  • In difficult times, it is important to stand together and find strength in common grief.
  • I sincerely wish that you can heal the pain and grief in the days and weeks ahead with happy memories of happy years together.

Step 5: Pay tribute to the deceased in an authentic way

Use these sample phrases to show that the deceased will be remembered fondly by you.

  • The trusting working relationship with your husband will be greatly missed.
  • His sincerity, his cordial manner and his humanity were a role model for many people.
  • He was more than a business partner to me.
  • As a businessman with vision, he cared above all for his employees.
  • His death has left a big gap. Our company will never forget your husband.
  • Your husband was a role model and pioneer for me.
  • His cordial manner strengthened our cooperation.
  • We will cherish his memory.
  • When I think back on the many projects we worked on together with your husband, I remember not only his determination and competence, but above all his sense of humor.

Step 6: Offer help

  • If we can support you personally, please do not hesitate to contact us.
  • Our thoughts (and prayers) are with you and your family at this time. If we can be of assistance, please let us know.

Step 7 : Concluding greeting formula

  • In silent mourning.
  • In deep sympathy.
  • We will miss your husband very much.
  • Sincere condolences.
  • We grieve with you and your family.

Why it is appropriate to offer help

A professional letter of condolence can include an offer of help. It is especially appropriate to offer personal assistance if you know the deceased’s survivors well and there was a long-standing and friendly business relationship. In this case, it may be that the relatives will return to the offer and further comfort or practical assistance can be arranged in a personal conversation.

If the deceased is less well known, an offer of help as a phrase may also be appropriate. It indicates that genuine sympathy and condolences are being expressed. Even if the offer of help is not accepted, it goes to the heart and is part of good manners in a business environment. For casual business relationships with no personal connection, you can omit an offer of assistance.

How to write the letter of condolence when an employee passes away?

In addition to a letter of condolence honoring deceased business partners, it may be equally necessary to honor a long-time and deserving employee through a letter of condolence for someone who has passed away. Here it is irrelevant whether the company employee is already retired or was in gainful employment. The loss of an employee through a sudden and unexpected death is not easy to put into words. Especially when it hits young employees, leaving behind children and a young widow, it is important to find the right phrases.

In addition to an authentic and comforting expression of condolences, companies can make clear their deep sorrow for the loss in a letter of condolence. Empathic wording can refer primarily to the activity in the company and point out what services the deceased has acquired for the company.

Examples of purposeful wording:

  • "We held your husband in high esteem for his reliability and ability to work as part of a team. He has earned an honorable memory in our company through his exemplary attitude!"
  • "Your husband has done great things for our company in recent years through his personal commitment. We appreciated how your husband identified with the company, its products and with the employees. We will never forget!"
  • "We especially sympathize with your children Maja and David, who loved their father very much. We find it all the more difficult to express the right words to ease their pain and grief."

A letter of condolence for an employee should express what he or she has accomplished in the company. In addition to the professional competence and commitment of the deceased, his human activity should be appreciated. An authentic description of what colleagues and management appreciated about the deceased is encouraging and expresses sympathy. It also shows that the deceased is not forgotten within the company.

Why empathy and authenticity are crucial in a letter of condolence

Empathy is the art of empathizing with others. Individuals with empathy understand how the deceased’s next of kin or survivors feel and what phrases convey comfort and compassion. At the beginning, in preparation for the letter of condolence, it is important to empathize with the recipient of the letter. The better you know this, the easier it is to find the right words of sympathy.

Authenticity is also crucial to drafting a professional letter of condolence. Honest, truthful condolences without exaggeration or embellishment go to the heart of the bereaved. A business funeral card should not be a compulsory exercise. Rather, it is the last opportunity to empathically, kindly and at the same time with due objectivity pay tribute to the deceased and his life’s work.

A double check on letters of condolence makes sense

Before sending the letter of condolence, it is positive to review the wording again for appropriateness. The following questions can be helpful in creating reverent letters of condolence:

  • Are the phrases appropriate, heartfelt and do they express sympathy?
  • If the deceased is authentically appreciated. If the focus was on his or her qualities and merits?
  • Are the quotes used appropriate for business correspondence?
  • If phrases such as "time heals all wounds" are dispensed with?
  • Is the focus on the survivors of the deceased or am I describing my own loss too intensely?

Once you are personally convinced of the wording, funeral phrases and condolences, you should sign the letter personally. Design the envelope by hand and use a suitable stamp. Letters of condolence or bereavement cards created in this style can help the bereaved process death and grief. Take the time to write a brief, heartfelt, professional and personalized letter of condolence, in addition to honoring the memory of the deceased.

In these cases, a sympathy card is more appropriate than a letter of condolence

A letter of condolence designed with heartfelt wording looks professional and valuable. If you do not know the deceased and his or her survivors personally, it is not mandatory to draft a personal letter of condolence. For example, if the CEO of a company with whom there has been no close contact for years dies, a personalized letter of condolence could seem intrusive. A simple, high-quality condolence card is more appropriate in such a case and is also sufficient. Pre-printed sympathy or condolence cards are offered in specialized trade, which can be individualized by personal messages or a suitable mourning saying. For the wording, you can follow the seven steps for writing a letter of condolence. A personal reference to the deceased, his career and his values is replaced in this case by general, formal formulations. A sympathy card designed in this way expresses sympathy and at the same time appears restrained and reverent. It suggests appreciation and recognition to the bereaved without being intrusive.

Summary: A heartfelt, professional letter of condolence comforts the bereaved and honors the deceased

Death and mourning are among the worst experiences in a person’s life. If a valued business partner or employee dies, it is appropriate and shows sympathy and compassion to send a letter of condolence. Such a written expression of sympathy should be short, authentic and heartfelt. The wording should express sincere sympathy, honor the deceased and his or her life’s work, and convey comfort and compassion to the survivors.

For this reason, a business letter of condolence is written with a clearly personal character and, in the best case, on neutral stationery with a fountain pen. The wording should be individual and comforting and include words of condolence. Appropriate funeral or religious messages can be used if the deceased would have liked them. A business message of condolence should be written in a sober and at the same time emotional way. Especially if the bereaved is not known personally, pathos and exaggeration on the emotional level should be avoided.

In summary, in the business environment, it is "good manners" to send a funeral card or letter of condolence. It should express sincere condolences and sympathy, honor the deceased and comfort the bereaved in a pleasant and authentic way.

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