Breaking bad (news)

Posted on 25/04/2016 · Posted in Recent news

Recently I received a letter with some bad news: my job application was unsuccessful. And while reading this awful news, it struck me: it wasn’t so much what the letter said, but how it was said that made me feel rejected. Hopefully you never have to write a bad news letter or e-mail in your life, but if you do, here are three steps to delivering bad news firmly, but kindly and leaving the recipient feeling hopeful, rather than rejected. It’s all about the packaging.

Step 1: The buffer

Don’t just rip the band-aid off – start with a buffer. The buffer could be anything from “Thank you for applying for the position of [xxx] in our company” to “Thank you for showing interest in our organisation.” This sets a positive tone and can make your reader feel appreciated, easing them into the bad news that follows.

Step 2: Delivering the bad news

To a large extent, your tone and word choice determine how the reader receives your message, how they feel when they do, and how they view you as a writer and the organisation on behalf of whom you are writing.

It is never easy to receive bad news, but you can soften the blow by the way in which you convey the bad news. Consider the difference between the following sentences:

  1. Your application has been rejected.
  2. Unfortunately, your application was not successful.

Both options are clear and final, but the first seems blunt and impersonal, while the second lets the reader down gently. The same applies to the following example:

  1. Unfortunately, you have failed the test.
  2. Unfortunately, you did not meet the assessment criteria.

Step 3: The silver lining

Finally you want to end off your letter in a positive manner once again, by leaving a message of hope with your reader. Let them know of any alternative options they may explore, wish them well, or assure them of your on-going support. A good example of such a letter may be:

Dear Applicant

Thank you for applying for the [xxxx]-bursary.

After much deliberation we are sorry to inform you that your application was unfortunately not successful.

We wish you the very best with your studies and future success.

Yours sincerely,

Writing is never merely about what you want to say, but much more about how you say it. And this is especially true in a professional environment, where the way you communicate with both your clients and colleagues has a great impact on the way they view you, and your company or organisation. Therefore learning tips and tricks such as the tone and style you use in your messages can have a positive impact on your company image, and strengthen relationships you want to build.

Want to learn more tips and tricks like these? Register for our workshop in May and learn all about email and correspondence in your professional environment.