When delivering bad news, include the following:
- A sincere greeting that does not relate to the bad news. If you open with the bad news, you may lose your reader immediately.
- Explanation of the circumstances that led to the bad news. Bad news is harder to accept when it does not make sense. Explain as much as possible/appropriate.
- Deliver the bad news with an apology if appropriate.
- Immediately after the bad news, include a statement that fosters goodwill. If possible, offer a compromise.
*NOTE: No amount of strong or fancy writing will make bad news sound good. However, a well-crafted message helps the reader understands and accept the message.
Analyze your audience by asking:
- How serious is the issue?
- How much damage has been done?
- How valuable is the future relationship?
Pay close attention to your tone:
- Establish a serious, sincere, but not overly dramatic tone.
- Offer a sincere apology, but don’t overdo it.
- Use diction (word choice) carefully: often how you phrase your apology matters more than what is actually stated.
*When writing bad news messages, use a tone that is clear but not accusatory. The table below shows a few examples:
|Vague||Accusatory||Clear and polite|
|This assignment wasn’t quite what I was looking for.||You failed!||This assignment did not earn a passing score.|
|Your instructions were unclear.||I have no idea what you want. These instructions don’t make any sense.||Looking at the instructions you sent, I wasn’t able to get a good sense of what you were looking for.|
Pay attention to your format and structure:
- Provide an explanation where appropriate, but don’t make excuses or blame others.
- Offer to make amends or rectify the situation when appropriate.
- Close by maintaining good will.
Be sure to follow the bad news letter structure when delivering bad news or making apologies:
- The buffer/cushion (paragraph 1) works to set up the communication and put the reader into a more receptive frame of mind.
- The explanation (paragraph 2) explains the purpose of the communication and provides a brief (when appropriate and necessary) overview of the situation.
- The negative news message (paragraph 3) directly addresses how the bad news directly affects the reader/customer/recipient.
- The redirect (paragraph 4) discusses specific actions that you will take (or that have already been taken) to remedy the problem. In the case below, this redirect also includes a solution strategy enhanced with a soft-sell message (a subtle, low-pressure method of selling, cross-selling, or advertising a product or service). This can also work as a conclusion.
Here’s an example of a well-structured bad news message:
|Buffer or Cushion||Thank you for your order. We appreciate your interest in our product.|
Explanation – reasons why
|We are writing to let you know that this product has been unexpectedly popular, with over 10,000 requests on the day you placed your order.|
|Negative News – focuses on what they can do||This unexpected increase in demand has resulted in a temporary out-of-stock/backorder situation. We will fulfill your order, received at 11:59 p.m. on 09/09/2009, in the order it was received.|
this example also includes a soft-sell message
|We anticipate that your product will ship next Monday. While you wait, we encourage you to consider using the enclosed $5 off coupon toward the purchase of any product in our catalog. We appreciate your business and want you to know that our highest priority is your satisfaction.|