Q: I've become good friends with another woman at work and can't help noticing how thin she is becoming. I'd like to raise the matter with her as she looks ill and I am concerned, but feel as though I might be overstepping the mark. What do you think I should do? I cannot just ignore it.
A: You're right to be concerned. And now that you are concerned, you can't pretend it isn't happening. You're also right to recognise that, whatever you decide to do, it needs to be done with the greatest caution and sensitivity.
You say you've become good friends. I hope that means you occasionally go out for a coffee or a drink together. Something curiously liberating happens when work colleagues leave the workplace behind them. You won't seem at all nosy if you begin to exchange a little information about your respective families - and that's the most important thing you need to establish. If she really is ill, whether or not she has a supportive family behind her is crucial - not least because it will help determine what role, if any, you need to play yourself.
She may well allude to her health quite spontaneously. If not, the gentlest of approaches should tell you a lot. If she turns down a piece of cake with her coffee, you might say: 'But surely you don't have a weight problem?' (I know that sounds horribly contrived but I'm not suggesting a script; just how best to make tip-toe progress.)
Beyond these opening moves, it's impossible for me to go on. Everything depends on what you learn about your colleague and her personal circumstances.
If she's fiercely resistant to all attempts to establish greater intimacy, you must, of course, back off at once. But don't withdraw from her completely. The chances are that, if she feels the time is right, she will want to make the next tentative approach.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.