Business and Entrepreneurship, Columbia College Chicago Writing for Managers, Spring 2015

Business and Entrepreneurship, Columbia College Chicago Writing for Managers, Spring 2015

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.       .


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