Thursday, May 8, 2014

Delivering Bad News

Delivering bad news is never easy. When a decision has negative consequences forsomeone, there really is no way to soften that blow.
Don't try to make the reader happy. You can't. No matter how beautiful your prose, how emotionally intelligent you are, they will not be happy with the decision. No one ever said, "How wonderful! My [fill in the blank] was denied!" or "Great news! I owe an additional thousand dollars!"
Focus on walking them through the process by which the decision was arrived at. The key is to help them understand that no other decision was possible. Here are some tools I use and teach in my writing workshops to help you deliver bad news.
Watch Your Pronouns
  • Always use the first person plural form--we, us, our--since this pronoun represents your company/department and carries the "Royal We" connotation.
  • Avoid the use of second person pronouns. "You" and "your" are inflammatory words when delivering bad news.
  • After you write your document, go back over it and revise every sentence that uses the second person pronoun and eliminate it as much as possible. Examples, "You sent a request" becomes "We received a request." "Your claim for..." is now "The claim for...."
Organize This Way
  • Paragraph 1: Open with something neutral about why you are writing. For example, "We have received an email requesting...," or "We received a claim for reimbursement of...," or "We received a request for an exception to be made...."
  • Paragraph 2: Summarize what the person sent or requested and itemize any pertinent items you received. Again, watch the use of "you."
  • Paragraph 3: State the applicable rule, regulation, policy, and/or procedure that was used to make the decision.
  • Paragraph 4: Deliver the bad news this way: "Given the information provided and the applicable [refer to items in Paragraph 3], no [refund, reimbursement, exception, and so on] can be made.
  • Paragraph 5: If you have legally required appeal language, it goes here. Otherwise, end with, "If there is any additional information that would affect this decision that we do not currently have, please provide it by [date]." This gives the reader some sense of control.
  • End with a standard business closure, such as, "Please feel free to contact me with any questions."
  • Keep the tone formal, be courteous, and avoid using adverbs like "unfortunately" and making statement that you're sorry. You're communicating a business decision. Yes, it's bad news, and maybe you do feel sorry, but commiserating with the person won't make the news any easier to deliver.
If you use email, make sure it looks like a formal letter. This means it needs a formal salutation: Dear [the person's title] last name. Example: Dear Mr. and Mrs. Flores or Dear Dr. Jones.
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