Delivering Positive and Negative Information

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Delivering Positive and Negative Information

Delivering Positive and Negative Information

Delivering good news is something we all like to do. The process for giving someone the good news is relatively simple: state the main idea or the good news, explain the circumstances or the details, and close with a comment encouraging future interaction or providing future expectations.

Here is an example of a good news communication:

Dear Ms. Smith,

We are pleased to announce that your bid for the artwork display was accepted by the committee. The sculpture you proposed will enhance our entryway and we are excited to see it on display. We would like to meet with you early next week to finalize the work schedule for installing your sculpture. Please let us know right away when you are available for a 30-minute meeting.

Sincerely,

Ms. Jones, Chair of the Selection Committee

Negative news, on the other hand, is more difficult. You want to deliver the negative news without sacrificing the goodwill of the company or alienating the recipient of the negative news.

Being a clear communicator is a key characteristic of a leader, and clearly communicating negative news is one of the challenges leaders face.

There are some steps to take when delivering negative news that will help you and the person who is getting the negative news get through the process:

  1. Write an introduction.
  2. Buffer the negative news.
  3. Provide a remedy, lesson learned, or course of action.
  4. Conclude the message.

The process of delivering negative news can be eased by following the steps listed above. Let's look at them individually.

Writing an Introduction

The introduction will set the tone and context for the message.

You want the message to be received in a way that does not sacrifice goodwill. Start out with something positive or by describing a beneficial outcome. If that does not fit, explain something positive about the future.

In the previous example, if the bid was not accepted, you could write something like this:

"First I would like to convey to you our gratitude for your bid on the art project."

This introduction is going to lead to negative news, but it will serve to make the artist feel appreciated.

Buffering the Negative News

The example above also serves to act as a buffer for the negative news. The artist may have an idea that her bid was rejected by the context of the first few lines, but she will feel that the effort she put into the proposal was recognized. You can further buffer the negative news by adding a sentence like this:

"Although we did choose another proposal for our art installation, we appreciate your taking the time to submit your bid. There were numerous outstanding bids and it was not easy to choose."

The negative news is in there, but it is not a cold, impersonal statement.

Providing a Remedy, Lesson Learned, or Course of Action

To continue to build goodwill and reassure the recipient of the message that you want to help him or her, you can provide some information on how to change things so future positive results can be attained.

Continuing on with the message about not accepting the bid for artwork, you could write the following:

"We will be looking for another art installation at our other site in about six months. That site is smaller; therefore, a smaller sculpture would be more appropriate. We do hope you will consider submitting a bid on that project."

Now the artist has some hope that a future project may be accepted. She does not feel completely rejected and still has goodwill feelings toward the art selection committee. Of course, this statement must be true or else you are inviting future, even more difficult, communication.

Concluding the Message

Once the negative news has been delivered, along with any lessons learned or courses of action for the future, it is important to conclude the message showing that you care and have genuine empathy for the recipient. It is important here that your ending is sincere.

"Again, let me express how sorry we were to not be able to accept your proposal, but hope to see ideas from you in the future."

Not all negative news messages will go as smoothly as the one illustrated here, but if you remember that the key to delivering negative news is trust, you will be able to deliver a message that is credible.

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