The sting of bad news can be reduced by giving reasons and communicating sensitively. In communicating bad news, key goals include getting the receiver to accept it, maintaining goodwill, and avoiding legal liability. The indirect pattern softens the impact of bad news by giving reasons and explanations first. The direct pattern is appropriate when the receiver might overlook the bad news, when directness is preferred, when firmness is necessary, when the bad news is not damaging, or when the goodwill of the receiver is unimportant.
The 3-x-3 writing process is especially important in crafting bad-news messages because of the potential consequences of poorly written messages. Avoid abusive language in messages completely. Abusive language becomes legally actionable when it is false, harmful to the person’s good name, and “published. ” Avoid careless language. Careless language includes statements that could be damaging or misinterpreted. Avoid statements that make you feel good but may be misleading or inaccurate.
Use organizational stationary for official business only, and beware of making promises that can’t be fulfilled. Openers can buffer the bad news with compliments, appreciation, agreement, relevant facts, and understanding. Bad-news messages should explain reasons before stating the negative news. Readers accept bad news more readily if they see that someone benefits. Techniques for cushioning bad news include positioning it strategically, using passive voice, implying the refusal, and suggesting alternatives or compromises.
Closing the bad-news messages might include a forward look, an alternative, good wishes, freebies, and resale or sales promotion information. The reasons-before-refusal pattern works well when turning down requests for favors, money, information, or action. Internal request refusals focus on explanations and praise; maintain a positive tone, and offering alternatives. Compliments can help buffer the impact of request refusals. When a customer problem arises and the company is at fault, many business people call and apologize, explain what happened, and follow up with a goodwill letter.
A written follow-up letter is necessary when personal contact is impossible, to establish a record, to formally confirm follow-up procedures, and to promote good relations. In handling problems with orders, writers use the indirect pattern unless the message has some good-news elements. In denying claims, the reason-before-refusal pattern sets an empathetic tone and buffers the bad news. Goals when refusing credit include maintaining customer goodwill and avoiding actionable language.