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Writing Bad-News Messages

Organizing bad-news messages:

•It’s important that you realize that some people interpret being rejected as a personal

failure; being turned down for a job or for credit, or even being rejected in less sensitive

areas, usually complicate people’s lives.

•As with direct requests and routine, good-news, and goodwill messages, bad-news

messages are best communicated across cultures by using the tone, organization,

and other cultural conventions that your audience expects.

•Your tone contributes to your message's effectiveness by supporting three specific goals:

–Helping your audience understand that your bad-news message represents a firm decision

–Helping your audience understand that under the circumstances, your decision was fair

and reasonable.

–Helping your audience remain will disposed toward your business and possibly toward you

•With the right tone, you can make an unwelcome point while preserving your

•audience’s ego.

•The two basic strategies described are

–The indirect plan, which presents supporting data before the main idea

–The direct plan, which presents the main idea before the supporting data

Indirect Plan:

•Instead of beginning a business message with a blunt no, which might keep your audience

from reading or listening to your reasons, use the indirect plan to ease your audience into

the part of your message that demonstrates how you’re fair-minded and eager to do

business on some other terms.

•The indirect plan consists of four parts

–A buffer

–Reasons supporting the negative decision

–A clear, diplomatic statement of the negative decision

–A helpful, friendly, and positive close


•The first step in using the indirect plan is to put the audience in an accepting mood

by making a neutral, non-controversial statement closely related o the point of the


•When composing your buffer, avoid giving the impression that good news will follow.

•Avoid saying no •Avoid using a know-it-all tone

•Avoid wordy and irrelevant phrases and sentences •Avoid apologizing

•Avoid writing a buffer that is too long


•If you’ve done a good job of composing the buffer, the reasons will follow naturally.

•Cover the more positive points first; then move on to the less positive ones.

•Provide enough detail for the audience to understand your reasons, but be concise; a long

roundabout explanation may make your audience impatient.

•The paragraph does a good job of stating the reasons for the refusal:

–It provides enough detail to make the reason for the refusal logically acceptable.

–It implies that the applicant is better off avoiding a program in which he or she would

probably fail, given the background of others who would be working alongside him or her.

–It doesn’t rest solely on company policy. A relevant policy exists but is presented as logical

rather than rigid.

–It offers no apology for the decision.

–It avoids negative personal expressions (“You do not meet our requirements”).

The Bad News:

•When the bad news is a logical outcome of the reasons that come before it, the audience is

psychologically prepared to receive it.

•However, the audience may still react emotionally if the bad news is handled carelessly.

•Here are some methods for deemphasizing the bad news:

–Minimize the space or time devoted to it.

–Subordinate it in a complex or compound sentence (“My department is already

shorthanded, so I’ll need all my staff for at least the next two months”)

–Embed it in the middle of a paragraph.

•Two other techniques are especially useful for saying no as clearly but painlessly as


–First, using a conditional (if or when) statement that implies the audience could possibly

have received or might someday receive a favorable answer: “When you have more

managerial experience, you are welcome to reapply”

–The other technique is to tell the audience what you did do, can do, or will do rather than

what you did not do, cannot do, or won’t do. Say “We sell exclusively through retailers, and

the one nearest you that carries our merchandise is …” rather than “We are unable to serve

you, so please call your nearest dealer.”

•It would not be ethical to overemphasize the positive.

•Be sure to avoid blunt statements that are likely to cause pain and anger.

•The following phrases are likely to offend and should be avoided:

–I must refuse we must deny

–We cannot allow we must reject

Positive Close:

•After giving the bad news, your job is to end the message on a more upbeat note.

•Whatever type of close you choose, follow these guidelines:

–Don’t refer to or repeat the bad news.

–Don’t apologize for the decision or reveal any doubt that the reasons will be accepted

(avoid statements such as “I trust our decision is satisfactory”)

–Don’t urge additional communication (avoid saying anything like “IF you have further

questions, please write”) unless you’re really to discuss your decision.

–Don’t anticipate problems (avoid statements such as “Should you have further problems,

please let us know”)

–Don’t include clichés that are insincere in view of the bad news (avoid saying “If we can be

of any help, please contact us”).

–Don’t reveal any doubt that you will keep the person as a customer (avoid phrases such as

“We hope you will continue to do business with us”).

Direct Plan:

•A bad news message organized on the direct plan would start with a clear statement of the

bad news, proceed to the reasons for the decision, and end with a courteous close.

•Stating the bad news at the beginning has two potential advantages:

–It makes a shorter message possible

–The audience needs less time to reach the main idea of the message, the bad news itself.

Conveying bad news about orders:

•For several reasons, businesses must sometimes convey bad news concerning orders.

–To work toward an eventual sale along the lines of the original order

–To keep instructions or additional information as clear as possible

–To maintain an optimistic, confident tone so that your reader won’t lose interest

•When you must back-order for a customer, you have one of the two types of bad news to


–You’re able to send only part of the order

–You’re able to send none of the order

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