Module 12: Composing Negative Messages
February 20 2012
Giving bad news to customers and other people outside your organization
1) Start with a neutral statement, or buffer.
a. Meant to orient readers and psychologically prepare them for news that they aren’t going to like.
b. The best buffers begin with areas that both you and your audience can agree on.
2) Give the reason for the refusal before the refusal itself when you have a reason that readers will understand and
3) Give the negative just once, clearly.
4) Always present an alternative or compromise, if one is available.
a. An alternative gives readers another way to get what they want.
b. Also suggests that you care about the readers and want to help them solve their problems.
5) End with a positive, forward-looking statement.
How should I organize Negative Messages?
- It depends on your purposes and audiences
- Use PAIBOC analysis and Maslow’s hierarchy to identify your audience’s needs.
- Choose your pattern of organization on the basis of the situation.
Letters to people outside your organization should be indirect to build goodwill.
When you write to supervisors, propose solutions when you report a problem.
When you write to peers and subordinates, ask for their input in dealing with negative
- Buffer Neutral or positive statement that allows you to delay the negative.
- You’ll want to begin messages with a neutral statement or buffer when the reader values harmony, or when the
buffer serves another purpose.
- A buffer must put the reader in a good frame of mind – not give the bad news but not imply a positive answer
either – and provide a natural transition to the body of the letter.
- Are hard to write, even if you think the reader would prefer to be let down easily, use a buffer only when you
can write a good one.
- It’s better not to use a buffer:
If the reader might ignore a letter with a bland first paragraph.
If the reader or the organization prefers “bottom-line-first messages”
If the reader is suspicious of the writer
If the reader “won’t take no for an answer” Reasons
- Make the reason for the refusal clear and convincing in terms of the audience’s needs and wants.
- Don’t hide behind the “company policy”: readers will assume the policy is designed to benefit you at their
- Show how the readers benefit from the policy. If they don’t, then don’t mention the policy.
- Avoid saying that you cannot do something.
- If you think that a policy is bad, try to persuade your superiors to change it.
- If you do not have a good reason, omit the reason rather than use a weak one.
- Deemphasize the refusal by putting it in the same paragraph as the reason, rather than in a paragraph by itself.
o Direct refusal: You cannot get insurance for just one month.
o Implied refusal: The shortest term for an insurance policy is 6 months.
- Give the reader an alternative or a compromise if one is available; does several things:
It offers the reader another way to get what he or she wants.
It suggests that you really care about the reader, and about meeting his or her needs.
It enables the reader to reestablish the psychological freedom you limited when you said no.
It allows you to end on a positive note and to present yourself and your organization as positive, friendly, and
- Psychological reactance -> is at work when a customer who has been denied credit no longer buys even on a
cash basis, or a su