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Formats for "Bad News" Correspondence

Contributed by Deane Gradous, Twin Cities consultant

Two Formats, Two Results

"Bad news" memos and letters are easier to write when you remember the two formulas for organizing the content of such correspondence. Although the formulas appear to be only slightly different, the reader is likely to respond to each format in a different way.

Indirect format, or "You are a valued person."

1. Thanks ...
2. Because ...
3. Sorry ...
4. Thanks ...

By using the indirect formula you prepare the reader for the bad news while you develop in his or her mind the rationale for your "no" decision. The indirect format is designed to preserve relationships under difficult circumstances for both writer and reader. It is gracious and definite and can be empathetic.

Direct format, or "Go away and don't bother us again."

1. Thanks ...
2. Because ...
3. Sorry ...
4. Thanks ...

By using the direct formula you quickly inform the reader of your decision. If you choose to add a reason for your decision, keep it simple. The direct format is not designed to preserve the relationship between writer and reader. Nevertheless, it is courteous and definite.

Choose the bad news format that fits your purpose.

Additional Resources

Delivering a Negative News Message
How Great Leaders Deliver Bad News
How to Write a Business Letter That Delivers Bad News
Sharing Bad News: Focus on the Message
How to Give Bad News in a Business Email Exercise

Also consider
Asserting Yourself
Conflict Management
Emotional Intelligence
Empathy
Writing Skills

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