Like persuasive messages, bad-news messages require careful planning. Your purpose in writing a bad-news message is twofold. To communicate these goals, you must communicate your message politely, clearly, and firmly. Sometimes you can achieve your purpose better with a phone call or personal visit than with a written message. Frequently, a written message is most appropriate.
Organizing to suit your audience
The reader’s needs, expectations, and personality – as well as the writer’s relationship with the reader – will largely determine the content and organization of a bad-news message. Put yourself in the place of the reader. Decide whether to use the direct or the indirect plan. However, messages written to one’s superior are typically written in the direct style.
Direct plan – present the bad news immediately.Use this plan when
1. The bad news can be considered routine.
2. The reader prefers directness.
3. The reader expects a “no” response.
4. The writer wants to emphasize the negative news.
5. The reader – writer relationship is at either extreme.
Indirect plan – buffer the bad news. When giving bad news to subordinates, customers, readers who prefer the indirect approach and readers you don’t know, you will often want to use an indirect plan. A buffer between the reader and the bad news that will follow lessens the impact of bad news and it should be neutral, relevant, supportive, interesting, and short. Ethical communicators use a buffer not in an attempt to manipulate or confuse the reader but in a sincere effort to help the reader accept the disappointing information in an objective manner.
JUSTIFYING YOUR DECISION
For routine bad-news messages the reasons can probably be stated concisely. Indirectly written messages, however, require more careful planning. Provide a smooth transition from the opening buffer and present the reasons honestly and convincingly. If possible, explain how the reasons benefit the reader. Show the reader that your decision was a business decision, not a personal one. Show that the request was taken seriously, and don’t hide behind company policy. The reasons justifying your decision should take up the major part of the message.
GIVING THE BAD NEWS
The bad news is communicated up front in directly written messages. To retain the reader’s goodwill, state the bad news in positive or neutral language. When using the indirect plan, phrase the bad news in impersonal language. In this case the bad news will not be perceived as a personal rejection.
CLOSING ON A PLEASANT NOTE
End your message on a more pleasant note. Make your closing original, friendly, and positive. Avoid referring again to the bad news.
REJECTING AN IDEA
A bad news message which rejects someone’s idea or proposal is very challenging. Put yourself in the role of the person making the suggestion.
REFUSING A FAVOR
Many favors are asked and granted almost automatically. The type of message written to refuse a favor depends on the particular circumstances. Remember that although the refusal itself might not lose the reader’s goodwill, a poorly written refusal message might.
REFUSING A CLAIM
The indirect plan is almost always used when refusing an adjustment request because the reader is emotionally involved in the situation. The tone of your refusal must convey respect and consideration for the customer – even when the customer is at fault. To separate the reader from the refusal, begin with a buffer. Use impersonal, neutral language to explain the basis for the refusal. Close your message on a friendly note.