How to Write a Bad News Letter In business, we often have to refuse to make an adjustment, decline a service, or deny a request from an outside party. One of the most difficult parts of communication is learning to say “no.” However, there is a right way to deliver negative news and still maintain strong business relationships. There are two ways to communicate an unfavorable decision. Method 1 is the direct approach. The bad news is stated immediately -‐ within the first or second sentence -‐ then explained. This approach can considered harsh, and it is not well suited for maintaining strong business relationships. Method 2 is the indirect approach, which is a much more reader-‐oriented approach. The bad news is preceded by several important, goodwill-‐maintaining elements. The indirect method softens the news and maintains an overall positive message. What is the difference between a Complaint Letter and a Bad News Letter? The difference is in your relationship to your audience. In a Complaint Letter, you are reporting a negative incident and seeking immediate resolution. Complaint Letters work best using the direct approach (Method 1). In a Bad News Letter, you want to leave the doors open for a future business relationship. You are attempting to break the bad news as gently and as positively as possible. This works best with the indirect approach (Method 2). The Bad News Letter “Sandwich”: 1. Positive Opening Line/Buffer. The first paragraph eases the reader into the letter. The writer can
appreciate the reader’s efforts, compliment the reader, sympathize with the reader, or be neutral by opening with a service-‐oriented remark.
2. The Facts. The beginning of the next paragraph states the facts. The explanation details the
reasons for the denial in as concrete, rational, and courteous a manner as possible. This segment gives the reader an understanding of the details, factors, and conditions behind the denial of the request.
3. The Bad News. Immediately after the facts, the writer breaks the bad news to the reader. It is
important to avoid negatives because they can make the letter’s tone abrasive. For instance, it is better to say “We will consider you for the buyer position when you have gained more experience in retail sales” rather than “We cannot consider you because you have no experience in retail sales.”
Turn around negatives and reword them to be less harsh: Say this: “Your warranty limits free typewriter repair to manufacturer’s defects only. We can repair the ‘unjammer’ key for approximately ten dollars, including parts and labor. Please check the directions in your owner’s manual for how to use the key.” This explanation is much more service-‐oriented and friendly. Not this: “We cannot repair your typewriter for free because you did not follow the directions on how to use the ‘unjammer’ key. Read the warranty and you will see we are not responsible for this sort of problem.” This explanation unfairly forces responsibility on the reader, and does not leave a good impression or offer good customer service (even if the person didn’t read the warranty!).
4. The Positive Closing. The last paragraph ends the letter in a courteous way. The writer can
questions, make suggestions and state that he/she looks forward to a continued business relationship with the customer.
Business and Entrepreneurship, Columbia College Chicago Writing for Managers, Spring 2015
Example October 6th, 2008 Mr. Bill Smith (Contact Name) Fake Company (Company Name) 123 Fake Street (Street Address) Anycity, Anystate 45678 (City, State ZIP Code) Dear Mr. Smith, Your invitation for me to act as chairperson for Fake Company’s upcoming Annual Auction Dinner is an honor. I enjoyed serving in that role last year. Your members are an excellent group with great ideas, and it was a privilege to work with them. (! 1. the Positive Opening Lines/Buffer) This year I am involved in developing a new department here at the clinic that is taking up all my time. (! 2. the Facts) As much as I would enjoy working with Fake Company again, I am afraid that I will not be able to give the project the attention it deserves. (! 3. the Bad News) Perhaps I can suggest one of my colleagues who has the time to do the job the way it ought to be done. Give me a call if you are interested, and I will be happy to suggest some names for you. We want the industry to be well represented. (! 4. the Positive Closing) I wish you and the committee great success in achieving this year’s goal. Sincerely, Mr. Old Friend The writer provided an excellent reason for the refusal of the position, but also left the door open for a future relationship. The writer also provided a possible solution at the end. Notice that the bad news was delivered indirectly and “sandwiched” between positive messages. The writer also did not provide any more information than was necessary. .