A.) Will the bad news be a shock to the audience?
If the audience understands there is a possibility of getting bad news, the direct approach is best. The indirect approach will be effective for readers that will receive the bad news as a shock. This approach will ease them into it and help prepare them. Also, it expresses to the reader that you are concerned about their feelings and how they may be hurt. (Gail Marie Article)
B.) Do you know the audience’s preference?
If the reader is someone who likes things that are short, clear, and to the point utilize the direct approach.
C.) Is it important news?
If the bad news carries serious consequence, or the audience is emotionally involved the indirect approach will be less harsh. Yet, if the news is routine and not as serious the direct approach will suffice.
D.) Need to keep the Relationship?
Since the indirect approach helps soften the blow, this approach helps to keep good working relationships.
E.) Have to get the Audience’s attention?
After audiences have been provided with several indirect approaches, the direct approach will help to assure to get their attention. Additionally, in cases where firmness and strong tone is needed as well as times of crisis, the direct approach is the best approach.
How to Format the Negative Message
The Direct Approach
Overall, this approach works best when the audience will be accepting of the main point and not opposed to it. (Gail Marie Article)
When using the direct approach:
1.) Open with the Bad News
Be sure to give a clear and specific statement of the bad news.
2.) Give Explanation
Provide the reasoning for the bad news. Apologies can fit in this section. However, they must be used with caution. Apologies can express sympathy but they can also admit liability. Be sure to be cautious of who your audience is.
3.) End it Positively
Close the letter on a positive note. Perhaps you could offer an alternative solution. Yet, do not fluff the ending too much, you still need to be truthful to the situation and have respect for the reader.
The Indirect Approach:
With the indirect approach it is appropriate to use the “positive-negative-positive” format. This occurs when you open with a positive insert the bad news and end on a positive. (James Lemoine Article)
When using the Indirect Approach:
1.) Open with a Buffer
A buffer creates a common ground between you and the reader. It can express appreciation, and needs to be relevant and sincere. It also leads into the reasoning and explanation.
2.) Give the Reasons
In this portion you will provide the reader with your explanation for the bad news. In the indirect approach it is best to start with the most positive points first and then move into the negative points. This portion encourages the reader to hear you out and understand why the decision stands the way it does. (Gail Marie Article)
3.) Clearly state the Bad News
The buffer and explanation has prepared the reader to receive the bad news, so in this portion of the letter is where you lay it out. Be sure to be clear and specific. Yet, attempt to de-emphasize the bad news, use conditional statements to imply that someday the reader could receive a favorable response, and emphasize what is possible in the reader’s case. Also, to minimize the impact, through the use of facts you can imply the bad news. Although be careful to make sure the message is clearly conveyed.
4.) Close positively
In the close, avoid a negative or unclear conclusion. Next, try to limit implications of future correspondence. And lastly, be sincere but avoid clichés. For instance, you could congratulate someone on their past successes but also encourage them to strive for more. (James Lemoine Article)
In any case it may be helpful to have your letter read by a fellow employee to ensure the tone, news, and message you are trying to get across is conveyed properly.(James Lemoine Article)
Excellence in Business Communication - Thill and Bovee, 9th edition
Chapter 9, Developing Negative Messages p. 244-247
“How to Write a Negative Message Memo” (James Lemoine Article)
“Tips on Writing Direct and Indirect Business Email” (Gail Marie Article)