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A few words can pack a big punch. That’s why it can be difficult to know what to say in certain circumstances. But going beyond a generic message and taking an extra moment to craft a heartfelt note will make a more lasting impression with your employees, clients, or other business contacts.  “When you’re writing messages for colleagues in different workplace scenarios, remember that you can be brief and still come off as warm and comforting,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, a consulting agency specializing in full-service etiquette and communication training for companies and individuals.

That means, keep it professional without being formal and personalize without getting too personal (you don’t have to call out just how old the person is turning). “Don’t worry about being the best message or the one that makes someone laugh or cry, just be genuine,” says Alex Mastin, CEO and founder of Home Grounds. “It’s more about them knowing they are loved and supported.”

What you write will also depend on the nature of your relationship (how well you know each other), on the power dynamic (avoid misconstrued messages), and your workplace culture (how formal you should be). “Let your own judgment guide you in drafting your messages with a sincere tone,” Bonnie says.

Stuck on what to say? Alex, uses this formula:

Business casual rapport + something from the heart = a great message on a card

Or you can follow a general guideline below:

  • Express your sentiment whether it is congratulating them or sharing your condolences.
  • Add a personal touch or story you can share.
  • Include advice, offer of help, or good wishes.

Thought starters from the experts

Expressing yourself on a colleague’s birthday

  • “It’s great working with you. Enjoy your special day.”
  • “Happy Birthday. It’s great to work with you!”
  • “Happy Birthday. I hope it’s a year full of happiness and success.”
  • “Happy Birthday to a person who makes this a great place to work.”
  • “Save me a piece of cake!”

Expressing yourself when a co-worker gets a promotion

  • “Congratulations on your promotion! You deserve it.”
  • “Congratulations on your promotion. I’m so proud of you!”
  • “Congratulations on your promotion! I can’t wait to see all the new heights you’ll achieve.”

Expressing sympathy in the workplace

  • “I’m sure your heart is aching. We want you to know that we are here for you if you need anything. Expect us to check in soon.”
  • “I’ll remember (name) in many positive ways-with a big smile and a great sense of humor, always great with a story.”
  • “Sorry for your loss. I celebrate the life of (name) and am mourning him/her with you in this trying time.”

Get well wishes for colleagues

  • “You’re the strongest person I know, you got this!”
  • “Get well soon, we all miss you at the office.”
  • “Get well soon! Let me know how I can best assist you while you’re away.”
  • “Get well soon, we all can’t wait for you to be back with the team.”
  • “Get well soon! Take care of yourself and we’ve got everything else covered.”

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With more than 20 years experience in the media world, Kathleen Harris has been an editor, writer, and content strategist for media companies, premier brands, and startups alike. Her specialties include business and career insight, leadership advice, and lifestyle trends. Her track record includes working as the Editor of RealSimple.com and Deputy Editor at The Knot. She has written for Huffington Post, Washington Post, Pop Sugar, Real Simple, and more. She was trained as a journalist at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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