Communicating Negative Messages

Writing Negative Messages


Negative messages is bad news. Your audience doesn't want to hear your bad news, and could hate you for it. But bad news cannot be helped. It happens. However how you deal with bad news can often make your audience trust and respect you more!


  1. Purpose
  2. Planning your Medium
  3. Direct vs. Indirect


Negative messages can be very simple or very complex.

  • Simple - reject application.
    • If you are just saying no. For example, "No, we don't have your requested book".
  • Complex - reject application AND give feedback AND help develop improvement plan
    • If you are saying no and more, that makes the message more complex. For example, "No, we don't have your requested book. It sold out last Monday. However you are willing to wait 4 days, we can get you a copy. Can you send us your mailing address?"

Planning Medium

The medium you choose is important. It reflects sincerity and helps improves level of acceptance. The more important your message is, the more time you should spend on your message and be as personal as you can. So the most important message, would require Oral Media, and least important can be through a Text Message or Email.

Direct vs Indirect Approach

  1. Will the news be shocking? - If the user is going to be very shocked, use the indirect approach to give the message more gently.
  2. How Important is the news? - If the news is urgent and the user needs to know the news quickly, then be direct. If the new is emotionally or personally very important, indirect.
  3. Do you need to get the reader's attention? - If you need to quickly get the user's attention, then be direct. Indirect messages can sometimes be confusing. Example, if you have sent a few emails to your reader and there is no response, your next email should be more direct.
  4. Do you want follow up information? - If you want your reader to respond to you have perhaps have a discussion, then be indirect. If you write more information, you are being more conversational and opening to respond. Direct signifies finality and an end to the communication.
  5. What would your audience prefer? - As always, your audience is the most important person. For example, if you are writing to your busy boss, have a direct approach. Or in some cultural contexts, bad news should be delivered face-to-face.

Direct Approach

  • Start with clear statement of bad news
  • Explain reasons
  • End with positive note

Indirect Approach

  • Start with neutral statement/buffer
  • Explain Reasoning
  • Clear statement
  • End with positive note

Neutral Statements/Buffers

An indirect negative message will start with a few statements are not related to the main point of your message. This is to balance the negative news and hope your reader sees the positive part of the message more.

  • Good News - Start with positive part or some good news first. Example: We have managed to find the book you requested, but it will take 4 days to get here.
  • Agreement - Mentions things that both of you agree on. Example: We both know how competitive the racing business is.
  • Appreciation - Express your gratitude to your audience, praise them for their work. Example: Thank you very much for your excellent letter, however, we don't....
  • Fairness - Talk about how honest, sincere, fair you are or are trying to be. You are telling your reader that you have closely examine problem and are trying to fix it. Example: Our company puts our customers first, and we have done everything possible to try to locate your lost sweater. However...
  • Cooperation - Explain your willingness to cooperate and work together with your reader. Example: We promise that we will work as hard as possible and be willing to meet with you. However, ....

Assignment 2 : Writing Negative Message