My company has been downsizing. Many of my co-workers are being dismissed, and I find myself at a loss about what to say to them. When I see these people in the hails or cleaning out their offices, my inclination is to dodge them. What should I do? -- Lost for Words

Dear Lost:

Do the right thing: Summon up the courage to talk. They'll feel better. and so will you.

"It's important to hear something positive," says one executive who was laid off two years ago. "You feel like there's a hole in you, and talking helps to heal the wounds." On the day this man left, he walked past a meeting of all

his colleagues. Not one came out to shake his hand or say good-bye. "I felt so alone." Tony Mickiewicz, a Chicago banker who was laid off twice in the past three years, says he was surprised by who stepped forward to support

him - and who didn't.

Finding the Words

"Some people have a high de- gree of empathy," he says. "I really have special feelings for those who expressed it."

So, what can you say?

Try: "I heard the news. I've really enjoyed working with you, and I'm sorry to see you leave."

Then, focus on tile future. Ask if he has any plans and then try to think of resources that could be helpful. You can ask if he will be in outplacement. And, if it's someone who is more than an acquaintance, say you would like to call next week to get together for lunch.

Michael Wynne, a counselor in Chicago with the outplacemerit firm of Jannotta, Bray, Henderson, suggests saying: "You have a friend here, and you can count on my help." But don't ask what you can do at that moment. Chances are, the person won't know.

Body Language

And, if it's appropriate, just extend your arms and give the person a hug, says Phyllis Macklin, of Minsuk, Macklin, Stein, an outplacement firm in Princeton Junction, N.J.

Here are some things not to

say:

* "How could they do this to you? You're so valuable, the company is bound to call you back."

* "This is the best thing that could have happened to you."

* "You're lucky. Now you have the opportunity to look for another job."

* "What really happened?"

* "I know just how you feel."

Don't get caught up in a session aimed at badmouthing the company or the boss. That's counterproductive; you both will feel worse. If the person does start to vent his anger, listen to it, but don't participate. Try to steer the conversation to something constructive, like future plans.

If the colleague leaves before you have a chance to speak, send a note wishing him good luck.

Times being what they are, Hallmark now sells cards that say things like: "Looking for a job can drive you crazy. Hang in there!"

You and his friends at work can pull together an "achievement letter." Recount in detail the person's successes. Mention tough problems he solved, teams he contributed to, projects he managed, and people he coached.

Think of it as material for his new resume.

One editor I know was given a portfolio filled with examples of important stories he edited, publications he developed, special sections he oversaw, and a list of awards won under his direction. He used it to display his work on job interviews.

Finally, if the person is a close friend, you might want to give a gift. A practical item would be a job-hunting book or a subscription to The National Business Employment Weekly.

Another possibility: a subscription to a publication that focuses on his area of expertise, so he can keep up with events.

-- P.K.

In Two Weeks: How some bankers have turned outside passions into new careers.

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