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Ask Ash

16 July 18

Advice column: I've learned that someone I don't get on with is battling cancer. How do I react?

Dear Ash

I have not got along with a particular work colleague in the office. We just never seemed to click from the beginning and she always acts competitively towards me in all aspects of our work. However, I have recently learned on the grapevine that she has been diagnosed with cancer. I’m unclear as to how serious the diagnosis is, but she still seems to have the same attitude towards me. I’m just not sure as to whether I should say something to her and reach out or whether I just carry on as normal as if I don’t know?

Ash replies

It is inevitable that in an office setting there will be some people that you just do not click with. However, there may sometimes be issues of a personal nature such as a serious illness that may force you to see the person from a different perspective.

Nevertheless, the news you have discovered does not appear to be general knowledge and by raising the topic with your colleague you may risk causing even more friction, as she may not appreciate you raising the news, especially if she assumes that it is confidential. 

However, you may want to consider possible ways to thaw the frosty relationship with your colleague. It could be that you consider being more considerate towards her without necessarily making it clear that you know about her illness, for example suggest a coffee to talk about your relationship at work in a bid to clear the air. She may appreciate you reaching out in that way, especially as given her illness it may be one less thing for her to have to think about. 

A serious illness will have an inevitable impact on your colleague and indeed her long-term priorities in life, but it could also give you the opportunity to gain more perspective and realise what is important for you too.  

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email:  

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