• State the bad news.

When the bad news is a logical outcome of the reasons that come before it, the audience is psychologically prepared to receive it.

  • Tell the audience what you did do, can do, or will do rather than what you did not do, cannot do, or will not do.

Say "We sell exclusively to retailers, and the one nearest to you is ..." rather than "We are unable to serve you, so please call your nearest dealer."

  • Be optimistic about the future.

Don't anticipate problems (avoid statements such as "Should you have further problems, please let us know").

  • Avoid apologizing when giving your reasons.

Apologies are appropriate only when someone in your company has made a severe mistake.

  • Limit future correspondence.

Encourage additional communication only if you are willing to enter into further discussions.

  • End with a Positive Close

After giving your audience the bad news, your job is to end your message on an upbeat note.

  • By implying the bad news, you may not even need to actually state it.

("The five positions currently open have been staffed with people whose qualifications match those uncovered in our research"). By focusing on the positive and implying the bad news, you soften the blow.

  • Follow the following guidelines: Keep it positive

Don't refer to, repeat, or apologize for the bad news, and refrain for expressing any doubt that your reasons will be accepted (avoid statements such as "I trust our decision is satisfactory").

  • Be sincere

Steer clear of cliches that are insincere in view of the bad news (avoid saying, "If we can be of any help, please contact us").

  • Subordinate bad news in a complex or compound sentence ("My department is already shorthanded, so I will need all my staff for at least the next two months.")

This construction pushes the bad news into the middle of the sentence, the point of least emphasis.

  • Be confident

Don't show any doubt (avoid phrases such as "We hope you will continue to do business with us").

  • You might propose an attainable solution to the audience's problem

("The human resources department has offered to bring in temporary workers when I need them, and they would probably consider doing the same for you").

  • Provide enough detail for the audience to understand your reasons. Be concise.

Continue with a logical, neutral explanation of the reasons for the bad news

  • Use a conditional statement to imply that the audience could have received, or might someday receive, a favorable answer

("When you have more managerial experience, you are welcome to reapply").

  • These techniques are especially useful for saying no as clearly and kindly as possible.

Minimize the space devoted to the bad news.


- Paul Kim's writing class 

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