Module 6: Good and Bad News Messages June 7, 2012
Objectives: By the end of this module, you should be able to:
identify the parts of a letter,
explain when a direct or an indirect approach should be taken when communicating
goodwill and bad news messages,
explain the "direct approach" writing style and its application to routine goodwill
identify the components and style of various goodwill messages, and
explain the indirect approach to delivering bad news.
Readings Chapter 6 and 7
Direct Writing for Bad News and Formats for “Bad News” Correspondence (see below)
Part I: Negative Messages
Two goals for delivering bad news:
o Deliver bad news clearly, concisely, and respectfully.
o Help the reader accept bad news by showing fairness and logic.
o Maintain and build goodwill.
o Convey a one-time message, reducing the need for clarification or additional
o Balance business needs and sensitivity to the reader’s position.
o Reduce impatience and hostility by being prompt, accountable, and considerate.
Types of Bad News:
Assessments or appraisals
Tips for Achieving the Right Tone
Don’t plead or name-call.
Avoid mixed messages.
Assume the reader will agree.
Use facts and jargon-free language.
Remove timid or overly apologetic language.
Reduce the number of writer-centred phrases.
Avoid hinting with phrases such as:
o “sorry”, or “I regret”, or “unfortunately”
Use a positive emphasis, sincerity, and politeness.
Subject Lines and Complimentary Closing The proper tone is:
o Set in the subject line of the message.
o Reinforced by the closing.
o Subject lines can be omitted from letters.
o The complimentary closing should match the overall tone.
Direct Writing Plan for Bad News Messages
o You know the reader’s preference for directness.
o The news is expected.
o The information is critical.
o The news isn’t serious, significant, or detrimental.
o Your company’s practice is directness.
o You’re terminating the relationship.
o Provide a simple statement of bad news.
o Be brief and provide a clear explanation.
o Offer an alternative.
o Close with a statement of goodwill.
Ineffective Direct Approach Strategy
Opening expression of sympathy also announces the bad news
Gives no reason for the cancellation and does not identify the cancelled course.
o Dear Registrants, Unfortunately, the course you registered for has been cancelled.
Offers no alternative—another course or possible rescheduling
o It looks like we may not be able to make this course available to employees for at
least another few months.
Closing an afterthought that reminds readers, somewhat facetiously, of their
o We hate to disappoint our registrants, but I am sure you understand our budgetary
Ineffective Direct Approach Strategy
o You don’t know the reader well.
o The news isn’t anticipated by the reader.
o You expect a strong negative reaction.
o Provide a buffer that cushions the message and guides the reader to the
o Offer explanations to establish the background and provide additional
o Balance bad news with an alternative.
o Close with goodwill and a consideration of the reader’s feelings. Bad news Buffers
Buffers are one to three sentences that:
o Neutralize bad news,
o Establish rapport, and
o Reduce the reader’s shock.
o Avoid using negative language such as:
“no” or “unfortunately” and “regrettably”
Types of Bad News Buffers:
Expression of appreciation
Good or neutral news
General principle or fact
Chronology of past communication
Statement of agreement or common ground
Apology or statement of understanding
Explaining Bad News:
A good explanation is the key to a successful negative message. It shows that the decision
is based on valid reasons.
The explanation should be objective and give only the necessary information.
Stick to the facts.
Refer to, but don’t hide behind, company policy.
Use positive or neutral words.
Revealing Bad News
Explain the situation and then reveal the bad news. How?
o Put the bad news in a dependent clause.
o Suggest a compromise or alternative.
o Use the passive voice.
o Use longer sentences.
o Use positive language.
o Don’t spotlight bad news.
o Place it in the middle of a sentence or paragraph.
o Imply a refusal of a request.
o Focus on the continued relationship with the reader.
o Be “you”-focused.
o Don’t repeat the bad news.
o Offer good wishes.
o Don’t invite further correspondence.
o Don’t apologize for saying “no.” o Don’t take credit for work not provided.
Apologies show the reader that you care.
o Note: this sort of message can be misinterpreted; it could invite further