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Negative Messages


Breaking bad news is a fact of business life. Employees of every company from the highest to
lowest will give bad news of some sort almost every day. Often the recipients of bad news do
not take kindly to it, no matter how justified or necessary it is. The critical questions many
business communicators ask themselves daily are these: How can I give bad news and yet
retain my recipient’s goodwill? How can I also avoid creating legal liability or responsibility?
Offering strategies to help business communicators find answers to these questions is the crux
of Chapter 10.

This chapter focuses on using the indirect pattern to deliver negative messages that include
refusing typical requests, declining invitations, and delivering bad news to employees and
customers. The chapter also provides tips on communicating bad news in other cultures.

The indirect pattern requires writers to focus on how messages affect receivers. Relationship-
oriented writers like the indirect pattern because they care about how a message will affect its
receiver. This chapter provides tips and techniques.


1. Describe the goals and strategies of business communicators in delivering bad news,
   including knowing when to use the direct and indirect patterns, applying the writing process,
   and avoiding legal problems.

2. Explain effective techniques for delivering bad news sensitively.

3. Identify typical requests and describe an effective strategy for refusing such requests.

4. Explain effective techniques for delivering bad news to customers.

5. Explain effective techniques for delivering bad news within organizations.

6. Compare strategies for revealing bad news in other cultures.

                                                            Chapter 10 Negative Messages      355


   Presented a new opening case study featuring Southwest Airlines and its successful strategies
    for handling bad news to its customers. Included new ―Apply Your Skills at Southwest‖
    writing assignment.
   Provided many new examples of bad-news business situations so that students understand
    how necessary it is to be able to write effective messages that deliver disappointing news.
   Helped readers by providing model verbiage and more examples of apologies, empathy, and
    alternatives appropriate for bad-news messages.
   Expanded coverage of explanations and reasons in bad-news messages so that readers have
    more models of appropriate language.
   Updated information about delivering bad news in other cultures.
   Added new information about credit refusals so that business communicators understand
    their legal obligations.
   Prepared new video writing assignment delivering bad news to a BuyCostumes customer so
    that students develop skills in realistic business applications.
   Expanded checklists for writing various bad-news letters so that readers have more specific
    suggestions on what to include in each section.

    I. Strategies for Delivering Bad News (p. 274)

       PowerPoint slides 1, 2

       A. Primary and Secondary Goals in Communicating Bad News

           Primary Goals
            Make the receiver understand the bad news.
            Have the receiver accept the bad news.
            Maintain a positive image of you and your organization.

           Secondary Goals
            Reduce bad feelings.
            Convey fairness.
            Eliminate future correspondence.
            Avoid creating legal liability or responsibility for you or your organization.

           PowerPoint slides 3, 4

       B. Using the Indirect Pattern to Prepare the Reader
           Revealing bad news slowly and indirectly shows sensitivity to your reader.
           The indirect strategy keeps reader’s attention until you can explain the reasons for
             the bad news.
356     Part III Lecture Notes

                The indirect plan consists of four parts:
                 1. Buffer. Begin with a neutral statement.
                 2. Reasons. Provide an explanation of the causes for the bad news before
                    revealing it.
                 3. Bad news. Provide a clear but understated announcement of the bad news.
                 4. Closing. Include a personalized, pleasant statement.

            PowerPoint slide 5

        Let’s Discuss
When contact lens wearers reported serious fungal eye infections after using Bausch & Lomb contact
lens solutions, the company pulled its products from store shelves and issued a letter to customers from
Chairman Ronald Zarrella. The first line of the letter said:

Dear Loyal ReNu Customer,

For more than 150 years, Bausch & Lomb’s mission has been to ensure the health and safety of your

Question: Does the first sentence of this letter reflect the indirect or direct pattern? The first sentence of
this letter is a neutral statement that serves as a buffer. It does not mention the bad news. Therefore, this
letter reflects the indirect pattern. (P. Mintz, “Bausch & Lomb: Crisis Management 101,” BusinessWeek.
Retrieved June 20, 2007, from http://www.businessweek.com.)

    Figure 10.1 Four-Part Indirect Pattern for Bad News

        C. When to Use the Direct Pattern
            When the receiver may overlook the bad news
            When organization policy suggests directness
            When the receiver prefers directness
            When firmness is necessary
            When the bad news is not damaging

        Let’s Discuss
After Dell recalled millions of notebook computer batteries because of a potential fire hazard, it issued a
letter to customers at its Web site (http://www.dellbatteryprogram.com) that used the direct pattern:

Dear Dell Customer,

Dell has identified a potential issue associated with certain batteries sold with Dell … notebook
computers. In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other regulatory
agencies, Dell is voluntarily recalling certain Dell-branded batteries with cells manufactured by Sony and
offering free replacements for these batteries. Under rare conditions, it is possible for these batteries to
overheat, which could pose a risk of fire.
                                                                   Chapter 10 Negative Messages          357

Question: Why is the direct pattern used in this letter? The direct pattern is used in this letter to ensure
that the reader does not overlook the potentially dangerous fire that may result from Sony batteries. Dell
was concerned about the safety of its customers and demonstrated this by alerting them to the potential
danger in the first line of the letter.

        D. Applying the 3-x-3 Writing Process

            1. Analysis, Anticipation, and Adaptation
                If the disappointment will be mild, announce it directly.
                If the news is serious or personal, choose words that show respect and protect
                 the reader’s ego.

            2. Research, Organization, Composition
                Gather information and brainstorm ideas.
                Select the best reasons to include and eliminate weak ones.
                Flesh out each of the four sections as you compose your first draft.

            3. Revision, Proofreading, and Evaluation
                Look at the problem from the receiver’s position.
                Is the message clear without being too blunt or too subtle?
                Proofread for format, punctuation, and correctness.

            PowerPoint slides 6-8

        E. Avoiding Three Causes of Legal Problems

            1. Abusive Language

                Definition: Defamation is the legal term for any false statement that harms an
                individual’s reputation. When the abusive language is written; it is called libel;
                when spoken, it is called slander.

                    To be actionable, abusive language must be (a) false, (b) damaging to one’s
                     good name, and (c) published (written or spoken within the presence of others).
                    Electronic transmissions are considered to be ―published.‖

            2. Careless Language
                Careless language includes any statement that could be damaging or

            3. The Good-Guy Syndrome
                Avoid the temptation to use words that make you feel good but are legally
                Your words, decisions, and opinions are assumed to represent those of your
                Beware of promises that can’t be fulfilled.
358     Part III Lecture Notes

        PowerPoint slides 9-12

   II. Techniques for Delivering Bad News Sensitively (p. 278)

        PowerPoint slides 13, 14

        A. Buffering the Opening

              Best news

        Figure 10.2 Delivering Bad News Sensitively

        PowerPoint slides 15, 16

        B. Apologizing
            Apologize if you or your company erred.
            Apologize sincerely.
            Accept responsibility.

        Let’s Discuss
Former Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn stepped down amid a furor over unethical tactics
used during an investigation into boardroom leaks, including illegal data mining of phone records of HP
employees and journalists. She issued a letter of apology to journalist Peter Burrows that began as

Dear Peter,

I want to write to you directly to offer my deepest, unreserved, personal apology that your phone records
were obtained without your knowledge as part of HP’s investigation into breaches of board confidentiality.

Question: Does this apology acknowledge Patricia Dunn’s role in this spying scandal? The chapter
states that an apology is defined as an “admission of blameworthiness and regret for an undesirable
event.” Patricia Dunn does not acknowledge her role in authorizing the unethical tactics used to secure
phone records of board members and journalists. Because of this, the reader may not consider this a
sincere apology. Do you?

        C. Conveying Empathy
            Convey empathy, the ability to understand and enter into the feelings of another.

        D. Presenting the Reasons
            Explain clearly.
            Cite reader benefits, if plausible.
                                                         Chapter 10 Negative Messages       359

           Explain company policy, if relevant.
           Choose positive words.
           Show that the matter was treated seriously and fairly.

    PowerPoint slides 17, 18

    E. Cushioning the Bad News
        Position the bad news strategically; avoid the spotlight.
        Use the passive voice.
        Accentuate the positive.
        Imply the refusal.
        Suggest a compromise or an alternative.

    PowerPoint slides 19, 20

    F. Closing Pleasantly
        Forward look
        Information about alternatives
        Good wishes
        Freebies
        Resale or sales promotion

    PowerPoint slide 21

III. Refusing Typical Requests (p. 283)

    A. Rejecting Requests for Favors, Money, Information, and Action
       1. Saying No to Requests From Outsiders
           Begin with a buffer acknowledging the request.
           Praise the good works of the charity.
           Provide a gentle refusal with or without an explanation.

    Figure 10.3 Refusing Donation Request

        2. Refusing Internal Requests
            Focus on explanations and praise.
            Maintain a positive tone.
            Offer alternatives.

    Figure 10.4 Refusing an Internal Request

    B. Declining Invitations
        Make a special effort to soften the refusal because responses to invitations are
          often taken personally.
        Buffer the impact of the request refusal with a compliment.

    Figure 10.5 Refusing an Invitation
360   Part III Lecture Notes

  IV. Checklist for Refusing Typical Requests (p. 288)

       Consider ways to reduce the pain if the bad news is serious or personal.
       Help the receiver understand and accept the bad news and maintain a positive image
         of you and your organization.

      Begin With a Buffer
       Compliment the reader, show appreciation for something done, or mention some
         mutual understanding.
       Avoid raising false hopes.

      Provide Reasons
       In the body, explain why the request must be denied—without revealing the refusal.
       Avoid negativity and potentially damaging statements.
       Show how your decision is fair and perhaps benefits the reader or others.

      Soften the Bad News
       Reduce the impact of bad news by using (a) a subordinate clause, (b) the passive
         voice, (c) a long sentence, or (d) a long paragraph.
       Consider implying the refusal, but be certain it is clear.
       Suggest an alternative, such as a lower price, a different product, a longer payment
         period, or a substitute.

      Close Pleasantly
       Supply more information about an alternative, look forward to future relations, or
         offer good wishes and compliments.
       Maintain a bright, personal tone. Avoid referring to the refusal.

  V. Delivering Bad News to Customers (p. 288)

      A. Damage Control: Dealing with Disappointed Customers
          Call the individual involved.
          Describe the problem and apologize.
          Explain why the problem occurred, what you are doing to resolve it, and how you
           will prevent it from happening again.
          Follow up with a letter that documents the phone call and promotes goodwill.

      PowerPoint slides 22-26

      B. Handling Problems With Orders
          Use the direct pattern if the message has some good-news elements.
          Use the indirect pattern when the news is disappointing.

Figure 10.6 Bad-News Follow-Up Message
                                                        Chapter 10 Negative Messages     361

    C. Denying Claims
        Use the reasons-before-refusal plan when denying claims.
        Don’t blame customers and avoid sounding preachy.
        Use neutral, objective language and an empathetic tone.

    Figure 10.7 Denying a Claim

    D. Refusing Credit
        Avoid language that causes hard feelings.
        Retain customers on a cash basis.
        Prepare for possible future credit without raising false expectations.
        Avoid disclosures that could cause a lawsuit.

VI. Checklist for Delivering Bad News to Customers (p 293)

     Analyze the situation and anticipate how the reader will react.
     Think through the reasons creating the bad news.
     Consider alternatives.

    Begin Indirectly
     Express appreciation, but don’t thank the reader for requesting something you’re
       about to refuse.
     Show agreement on some point, review facts, or show understanding.
     Consider apologizing if your organization was responsible for disappointing the

    Provide Reasons
     Except in credit denials, justify the bad news with objective reasons.
     Explain what went wrong, what you are doing to resolve the problem, and how you
       will prevent it from happening again.
     Avoid blaming the customer or hiding behind company policy.
     Look for reader benefits.

    Present the Bad News
     Decide whether to soften the bad news by using (a) a subordinate clause, (b) the
       passive voice, (c) a long sentence, or (d) a long paragraph.
     Consider implying the bad news rather than stating it overtly.
     Offset disappointment by offering gifts, a reduced price, benefits, tokens of
       appreciation, or something appropriate.
     Suggest an alternative if one is possible.

    Close Pleasantly
     Look forward to future business.
     Suggest action on an alternative.
362   Part III Lecture Notes

         Offer best wishes, refer to gifts, or use resale sensitively.
         Don’t mention the bad news.

 VII. Delivering Bad News Within Organizations (p. 293)

      A. Giving Bad News Personally
          Gather all the information.
          Prepare and rehearse.
          Explain: past, present, future.
          Consider taking a partner.
          Think about timing.
          Be patient with the reaction.

      B. Delivering Workplace Bad News
          Sustain employee moral by communicating bad news openly and honestly.
          Provide clear, convincing reasons that explain the reasons behind the bad news.

      Figure 10.8 Announcing Bad News to Employees

      PowerPoint slides 27-30

      C. Saying No to Job Applicants
          Use the indirect pattern to lessen the blow.
          Be vague in explaining why the candidate was not selected to avoid charges of
            discrimination or wrongful actions.

      Figure 10.9 Saying No to Job Candidates

VIII. Checklist for Delivering Bad News Within Organizations (p. 295)

       Analyze the bad news and anticipate its effect on employees.
       Decide whether to deliver the bad news in person or in writing.

      Start With a Buffer
       Open with a small bit of good news, praise, appreciation, agreement, understanding,
         or a discussion of facts leading to the reasons section.
       If appropriate, consider an apology that conveys empathy.

      Discuss Reasons
       Except in job refusal letters, explain what caused the decision necessitating the bad
       Use objective, nonjudgmental, and nondiscriminatory language.
       Show that fairness governed the decision.
                                                           Chapter 10 Negative Messages   363

       Reveal the Bad News
        Make the bad news clear but don’t accentuate it.
        Consider cushioning the bad news by using (a) a subordinate clause, (b) the passive
          voice, (c) a long sentence, or (d) a long paragraph.
        Avoid negative language.

       Suggest Alternatives
        If alternatives or compromises are possible, present them.
        Consider alternate work assignments, extended deadlines, substitute tasks, job
          relocations, or whatever suits the situation.

       Close Harmoniously
        End on a positive, friendly note. For job refusals, extend good wishes.
        Maintain a bright, personal tone. Avoid referring to the refusal.

  IX. Presenting Bad News in Other Cultures (p. 297)
       Americans prefer to break bad news slowly and indirectly.
       In Germany and Britain, bad news is revealed directly.
       In China and Japan, straightforwardness is avoided.
       In Latin cultures, bad news may be totally suppressed.
       In Asian cultures, negativism is avoided and hints may suggest bad news.

Lecture Transparencies
(available in a separate packet and at http://www.meguffey.com)

Negative Messages                                                          Transparency
Acetates                                                                     Number
Goals in Communicating Bad News                                                101
The Indirect Pattern                                                           102
Avoiding Three Causes of Legal Problems                                        103
Techniques for Delivering Bad News Sensitively                               104–105
Damage Control: Dealing with Disappointed Customers                            106
―Before‖—Ineffective Customer Request Refusal (Activity 10.6)                  107
Critical Thinking Questions                                                    108
―After‖—Improved Refusal of Request                                            109

Solution Masters
                                                                           Page Number
                                                                           in This Book
Applying Your Skills at Southwest Airlines                                      672
 10.1 Organizational Patterns                                                   673
 10.2 Employing Passive-Voice Verbs                                             673
 10.3 Subordinating Bad News                                                    674
 10.4 Implying Bad News                                                         674
364     Part III Lecture Notes

 10.5   Evaluating Bad-News Statements                                              675
 10.6   Document for Analysis—Revision                                              676
 10.7   Document for Analysis—Revision                                              677
 10.8   Document for Analysis—Revision                                              678
10.10   Jamba Asks for Juicy Favor                                                  679
10.11   Seven Sins Speaker Says No                                                  680
10.12   Dummies Author Declines                                                     681
10.13   Thumbs Down on PDAs for Charleston Agents                                   682
10.14   Carnival Rejects Under-21 Crowd                                             683
10.15   Excessive Noise Prompts Action                                              684
10.16   Refusing Wounded Buffalo and Pygmy Circus Refund                            685
10.17   Airline Loses Passenger’s Glasses                                           686
10.18   The StairClimber or the LifeStep?                                           687
10.19   J. Crew Goofs on Cashmere Turtleneck                                        688
10.20   Worms in Her PowerBars!                                                   689–690
10.21   Costly SUV Upgrade to a Ford Excursion                                      691
10.22   McDonald’s Squirms Over McAfrika Protests                                   692
10.24   Cash Only at Gold’s Gym and Fitness Center                                  693
10.25   Risky Order for Cool Camera Phones                                          694
10.26   Company Games Are Not Date Nights                                           695
10.27   No Go for Tuition Reimbursement                                             696
10.28   Suit Up or Ship Out                                                       697–699
10.29   Is Increased Credit Card Security Worth the Inconvenience?                  700

Answers to Chapter Review Questions
1. What are the writer’s primary and secondary goals in communicating bad news?
   (Obj. 1)

   Primary goals are (a) to make the receiver understand the bad news, (b) to have the receiver
   accept the bad news, and (c) to maintain a positive image of the writer and his or her
   organization. Secondary goals are (a) to reduce bad feelings, (b) to convey fairness, (c) to
   eliminate future correspondence, and (d) to avoid creating legal liability or responsibility.

2. Describe the four parts of the indirect message pattern. (Obj. 1)

   (a) A buffer that offers a neutral but meaningful statement that does not mention the bad
   news, (b) the reasons that give an explanation of the causes for the bad news, (c) the bad
   news that is clear but understated, and (d) a closing that provides a personalized, forward-
   looking, pleasant statement.

3. Name five situations in which the direct pattern should be used for bad news. (Obj. 1)

   Use the direct pattern when (a) the receiver may overlook the news, (b) organization policy
   suggests directness, (c) the receiver prefers directness, (d) firmness is necessary, or (e) the
   bad news is not damaging.
                                                             Chapter 10 Negative Messages       365

4. What is the difference between libel and slander? (Obj. 1)

   Libel is abusive language that is written; slander is abusive language that is spoken.

5. What is a buffer? Name five or more techniques to buffer the opening of a bad-news
   message. (Obj. 2)

   A buffer is a device to reduce shock or pain. Appropriate buffers in bad-news messages
   might include starting with the best news, a compliment, appreciation, agreement, facts,
   understanding, or an apology.

6. What is an apology? When should an apology be offered to customers? (Obj. 2)

   An apology is admission of blameworthiness and regret for an undesirable event. Apologies
   should be offered to customer when an organization has erred. Apologies are most effective
   when they sound sincere and when the writer accepts responsibility.

7. Name four or more techniques that cushion the delivery of bad news. (Obj. 2)

   (a) Position the bad news strategically, (b) use the passive voice, (c) accentuate the positive,
   (d) imply the refusal, and (e) suggest a compromise or alternative.

8. What are some typical requests that big and small businesses must refuse? (Obj. 3)

   Requests for money, time, equipment, and support

9. How can form letters be personalized? (Obj. 3)

   Form letters can be personalized by using word processing equipment that merges names,
   addresses, and internal variable information.

10. Identify a process used by a majority of business professionals in resolving problems
    with disappointed customers. (Obj. 4)

   A majority of business professionals resolve problems immediately and personally by (a)
   calling the individual involved; (b) describing the problem and apologizing; (c) explaining
   why the problem occurred, what is being done to resolve it, and what measure are being
   taken to prevent its recurrence; and (d) following up with a letter that documents the phone
   call and promotes goodwill.

11. If you must deny the claim of a customer who is clearly at fault, should you respond by
    putting the blame squarely on the customer? (Obj. 4)

   Even when customers are at fault, businesses should strive to establish goodwill and not
   blame the customer.
366    Part III Lecture Notes

12. List four goals a writer seeks to achieve in writing messages that deny credit to
    prospective customers. (Obj. 4)

   (a) Avoiding language that causes hard feelings, (b) retaining customer on a cash basis, (c)
   preparing for possible future credit without raising false expectations, and (d) avoiding
   disclosures that could cause a lawsuit

13. What actions are tactful, professional, and safe when a subordinate must personally
    deliver upsetting news to a superior? (Obj. 5)

   Gather all the information, prepare and rehearse, explain what happened and how it will be
   fixed, consider taking a partner, consider timing, and be patient with the reaction.

14. What are some channels that large organizations may use when delivering bad news to
    employees? (Obj. 5)

   Organizations may use e-mail, videos, webcasts, and voice mail. But interoffice memos
   remain the most effective method because hard-copy memos are more formal and create a
   permanent record.

15. In Latin countries why may employees sometimes fail to report accurately any negative
    messages to management? (Obj. 6)

   In Latin countries it is considered disrespectful and impolite to report bad news to superiors.

Answers to Critical Thinking Questions
1. Does bad news travel faster and farther than good news? Why? What implications
   would this have for companies responding to unhappy customers? (Objs. 1–5)

   Students will probably respond that bad news does travel faster and often farther than good
   news. Why? Good news is not as interesting and doesn’t always provoke action. Bad news
   often makes people angry, and they wish to vent their anger or seek revenge by broadcasting
   their views. One writer claims that the recipient of good news tells about six other people,
   whereas the recipient of bad news tells about eleven other people (Marcia Mascolini,
   ―Another Look at Teaching the External Negative Message,‖ The Bulletin, Association of
   Business Communication, June 1994, p. 45). The implication for companies dealing with the
   public is to use all means possible to retain customer goodwill. When revealing bad news,
   seek ways to soften it, look for alternatives, and employ a warm, caring tone.

2. Some people feel that all employee news, good or bad, should be announced directly. Do
   you agree or disagree? Why? (Objs. 1–5)

   The times have changed. At one time with top-down, dictatorial management styles,
   employees were told what to do. Today, however, management is more participatory and
                                                           Chapter 10 Negative Messages      367

   team-oriented. Gaining the compliance and cooperation of employees is now recognized as
   beneficial to management in boosting productivity and serving customers. Caring about
   employees’ reactions to any news, good or bad, means careful crafting of messages. The
   indirect strategy might be appropriate for some messages, especially if management wants to
   maintain the goodwill of employees as well as that of customers.

3. Consider times when you have been aware that others have used the indirect pattern in
   writing or speaking to you. How did you react? (Objs. 1–5)

   Students may indicate that they appreciated the indirect pattern because it was more tactful
   and made them feel that the communicator cared about their feelings. On the other hand,
   students may suggest that they felt they were being manipulated and that they distrusted the
   communicator who was not forthright. Others may say that they were impatient to hear the
   bottom line. They disliked ―beating around the bush.‖

   Most business communicators feel that using the indirect pattern prepares that individual for
   bad news or for an important idea. Other communicators contend that the indirect strategy is
   unethical. However, it is not unethical to make the best presentation possible. To say that
   something is unethical is to suggest dishonesty. It’s not dishonest to delay bad news in an
   effort to protect the feelings of the receiver. The important point to recognize here is
   assessment of the receiver’s reaction. If you feel that the receiver would prefer to have the
   news directly, then do just that.

4. When Boeing Aircraft reported that a laptop containing the names, salary
   information, and social security numbers of 382,000 employees had been stolen from
   an employee’s car, CEO Jim McNerney wrote this e-mail to employees: I’ve received
   many e-mails over the past 24 hours from employees expressing disappointment,
   frustration, and downright anger about yesterday’s announcement of personal
   information belonging to thousands of employees and retirees being on a stolen
   computer. I’m just as disappointed as you are about it. I know that many of us feel that
   this data loss amounts to a betrayal of the trust we place in the company to safeguard our
   personal information. I certainly do. Critics have faulted this apology. With what did
   they find fault? Do you agree? (Obj. 1)

   Critics said this apology was counterproductive. The CEO’s memo admits that he spent 24
   hours reading e-mail complaints instead of immediately working on a letter apologizing to
   his employees. In other words, he needed hundreds of e-mail complaints to get the point.
   They also said that equating his hurt feelings with those of 382,000 employees was the
   worst illustration of shirking his responsibility. Critics complained that he did not take
   responsibility. But should he assume responsibility for the actions of an employee (who
   was subsequently fired)? Ask students how his apology could have been improved.
   (―Rating Apologies,‖ Networkworld, March 14, 2007, p. 3.)

5. Ethical Issue: You work for a large corporation with headquarters in a small town.
   Recently you received shoddy repair work and a huge bill from a local garage. Your
   car’s transmission has the same problems that it did before you took it in for repair.
368    Part III Lecture Notes

    You know that a complaint letter written on your corporation’s stationery would be
    much more authoritative than one written on plain stationery. Should you use
    corporation stationery? (Obj. 1)

    Although the letter might seem more impressive on corporation stationery, it is clearly
    unethical and possibly illegal to use the stationery for personal business. If the car were
    owned by the corporation, the situation might be different. Company stationery should never
    be used for personal matters.

Passengers LUV Southwest Airlines—Even When Flights Are Late

Critical Thinking

   Suppose you applied for a job that you really wanted, but the company hired someone
    else. To notify you of the bad news, the company sends a letter. Should the letter blurt
    out the bad news immediately or soften the blow somewhat?

    Revealing bad news slowly usually softens its impact. Most people would prefer to be let
    down gently.

   What are some techniques you could use if you have to deliver bad news in business

    Much depends, of course, on the severity of the bad news and the relationship between you
    and the receiver. In business messages to customers, you could start with a buffer, which is a
    neutral statement. Then you can offer reasons for the bad news before revealing it in a
    straightforward manner. You might suggest an alternative, a compromise, or a solution.
    Finally, you might close with a personal, forward-looking statement that does not repeat the
    bad news. If you or your company were responsible for inconveniencing or angering the
    customer, you would also consider whether to deliver an apology.

   What goals should you try to achieve when you have to give disappointing news to
    customers, employees, suppliers, or others on behalf of your organization?

    When delivering negative messages on behalf of your organization, you should remember
    four key goals. You want the recipient to accept and understand the bad news. At the same
    time, you want to present a positive image of your organization. Your message should be
    clear, so that you don’t have to spend more time corresponding about the issue. Finally, you
    must protect your organization from future legal action.
                                                             Chapter 10 Negative Messages      369

Southwest Airlines

Critical Thinking

   What are the advantages to Southwest of its proactive approach to passenger problems?

    Southwest builds customer loyalty and a positive public image by being prepared to deliver
    bad news. Having a plan and providing employees with information are the best way to break
    bad news and prevent later complaints. Customers appreciate having the facts and knowing
    that the airline takes customer service seriously. They are pleasantly surprised when they
    receive an unsolicited apology from Southwest.

   How might Fred Taylor use the four-part plan suggested in this chapter to compose his
    apology letters to passengers?

    Mr. Taylor could start the letter with a buffer showing appreciation and giving facts, such as
    thanking the passenger for flying Southwest and mentioning the number of daily flights the
    airline operates. Then he would continue with the reasons for the letter, describing the actual
    situation that led to the passenger’s problem. For example, if a passenger missed a
    connection because an incoming plane was late, he might explain that air traffic controllers
    slowed down the arrival of flights. Thunderstorms in that area caused many flight delays. He
    would also apologize for the inconvenience to the customer. If relevant—in the case of lost
    luggage or a mishandled reservation, perhaps—he could also explain any steps the airline is
    taking to prevent future mishaps. If appropriate, he would close with a gift to compensate for
    the inconvenience, such as a voucher for a free flight or a discount coupon. The closing
    should also state that he hopes that the customer will continue to choose Southwest.

   Contrast the strategies Taylor would develop to deliver bad news to Southwest’s
    employees and to its passengers.

    The goals when delivering bad news to employees or customers are similar: acceptance of
    the bad news while maintaining a positive image and avoidance of legal liability. Taylor
    would use positive language, be tactful, and start with a buffer. Depending on the severity of
    the bad news, he might be more direct in bad news to employees. He also has the option of
    delivering the news in person. In delivering bad news to customers, he would use the indirect
    method and written correspondence. Reasons and the bad news follow the buffer in both
    cases, and the closing should be pleasant and friendly. However, customers might receive
    offers of gifts or other benefits; employees would not.

Applying Your Skills at Southwest Airlines

(Transparency solution available)
370    Part III Lecture Notes

Current Date

Ms. Elizabeth Dunbar, Director
Animal Rescue League of Iowa
5452 Northeast 22nd Street
Des Moines, IA 50313

Dear Ms. Dunbar:

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa is to be commended on its excellent efforts to save animals
in need. We understand and applaud your ambitious drive to build a new state-of-the-art shelter
for the homeless animals of Des Moines.

We at Southwest Airlines are also involved in a number of admirable charitable efforts including
the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Ronald McDonald House, Junior
Achievement, Read Across America, and Parkland Burn Camp. When we receive requests to
support fund-raising events, we have two guidelines: (1) The request must arrive 45 days in
advance of the charitable event, and (2) the request must not exceed two roundtrip passes for
transportation between any two cities Southwest Airlines serves within the continental United
States. Although your request does not meet these two guidelines, we would be happy to support
a request for two roundtrip passes at a time when you can give us 45 days advance notice.

We extend to you our very best wishes for a successful fundraising drive to build your new animal
shelter. If we can offer you two roundtrip tickets for a future raffle, please write to us again.


Discussion Material for TECH TALK:
Using Technology to Personalize Form Letters
This letter could easily be adapted into a form letter that could be sent to respond to a variety of
charity requests. A word processor could be used to insert fields for date, letter address,
salutation, name of organization, and cause. In fact, changes would be required only for the date,
letter address, salutation, and first paragraph. The last two paragraphs and the closing could
remain the same in all letters.

10.1   Writing Improvement Exercise: Organizational Patterns (Objs. 1–5)

       a. A letter from a theme park refusing the request of a visitor who wants free tickets.
          The visitor was unhappy that he had to wait in line a very long time to ride a new
          thrill roller coaster. Indirect
                                                            Chapter 10 Negative Messages       371

       b. A letter refusing a request by a charitable organization to use your office equipment
          on the weekend. Indirect

       c. A memo from the manager denying an employee’s request for special parking
          privileges. The employee works closely with the manager on many projects. Indirect

       d. An announcement to employees that a financial specialist has canceled a scheduled
          lunchtime talk and cannot reschedule. Direct

       e. A letter to its customers from a bank revealing that one of its offices mislaid a CD
          containing details including customer addresses, dates of birth, account numbers, and
          the value of investments. Indirect

       f. A form letter from an insurance company announcing new policy requirements that
          many policyholders may resent. If policyholders do not indicate the plan they prefer,
          they may lose their insurance coverage. Indirect

       g. The last in a series of letters from a collection agency demanding payment of a long-
          overdue account. The next step will be hiring an attorney. Direct

       h. A letter from a computer company refusing to authorize repair of a customer’s
          computer on which the warranty expired six months ago. Indirect

       i. A memo from an executive refusing a manager’s proposal to economize by
          purchasing reconditioned computers. The executive and the manager both appreciate
          efficient, straightforward messages. Direct

       j. A letter informing a company that the majority of the company’s equipment order
          will not be available for six weeks. Indirect

10.2   Writing Improvement Exercise: Employing Passive-Voice Verbs (Obj. 2)

       a. Health and dental benefits are offered only after employees have been on the job for
          12 months.

       b. Credit cards will no longer be accepted for purchases under $5.

       c. Because more stringent security is required, company tours must be postponed

       d. Examination of patients cannot be made until their insurance coverage is verified.
          OR: Patients can be examined after verification of insurance coverage.

       e. Large SUVs are not covered by your car rental insurance.

10.3   Writing Improvement Exercise: Subordinating Bad News (Obj. 2)

       a. Although your complete order cannot be shipped at this time, two corner workstations
          should arrive within five days.
372    Part III Lecture Notes

       b. Although we no longer print a complete catalog, we now offer all of our catalog
          choices at our Web site, which is always current.

       c. Although an employment offer cannot be extended at this time, we appreciate your
          interest in our organization.

       d. Although smoking is not allowed within 5 feet of a state building, the college has set
          aside 16 outdoor smoking areas.

10.4   Writing Improvement Exercise: Implying Bad News (Obj. 2)

       a. We have your fresh fruit basket ready and will ship it as soon as you call us with your
          credit card number.

       b. Although all our present funds are needed to lease new equipment and offices for our
          new branch in Richmond, we hope to be able to support this endeavor in the future.

       c. Because our billboard space was completely filled during the holidays, we hope to
          display your message, as promised, next month.

10.5   Writing Improvement Exercise: Evaluating Bad-News Statements (Obj. 2)

       a. Accentuate the positive: On January 1 we will be able to repaint your offices.

       b. This statement shows age discrimination. Omit.

       c. If spoken before others, this statement is slanderous. If written, it is libelous. The
          word ―shyster‖ is actionable. Avoid.

       d. Accentuate the positive: We can assure you that on return visits you will be treated
          royally by our well-trained staff.

       e. Too painful and specific. Keep the explanation vague and refer the applicant to your
          credit-reporting agency for more information.

       f. This statement, if ever a lawsuit were litigated, might support a charge of
          discrimination. Improvement: Janet generally completes only four pages per hour
          while other word processing specialists complete ten or more.

10.6   Document for Analysis: Request Refusal (Objs. 1–3) Digital versions of the
       Documents for Analysis appear at http://www.meguffey.com. Students may edit and
       revise these documents without total retyping. Many of these digital documents also
       provide letterheads so that students learn how to position messages on realistic
       stationery. Solutions for these documents are provided here and in the transparency
                                                            Chapter 10 Negative Messages       373


          Fails to open with a buffer statement before unloading the bad news.
          Opening statement sounds insincere (we would love to be able . . . ).
          Relies on negative words (unfortunately, we cannot allow you, prohibiting).
          Does not give reasons before the bad news.
          Makes little effort to retain goodwill of customer.
          Insults reader with arrogant language (if we agreed to proposals such as yours).
          Fails to present alternative in a way that promotes goodwill and future business.
          Does not make it easy for reader to respond.


       Current date

       Ms. Sheila Trumbo, Owner
       Royal Oak Realty, Inc.
       743 South Washington
       Royal Oak, MI 48067

       Dear Ms. Trumbo:

       We’re happy to learn that you are enjoying the use of the Canon X1000 color copier
       you’ve been leasing for the past 16 months.

       Like our many other customers, Ms. Trumbo, you have discovered that Canon copiers
       supply remarkable versatility and reliability. One of the reasons we’re able to offer these
       outstanding copiers at such low leasing rates and equally low purchase prices is that we
       maintain a slim profit margin. If our program included a provision for applying lease
       payments toward purchase prices, our overall prices would have to be higher. Although
       lease payments cannot be credited toward purchase price, we can offer you other Canon
       models that are within your price range. The Canon 600 delivers the same reliability with
       nearly as many features as the top-of-the-line Canon X1000.

       Please let us demonstrate the Canon 600 to your staff in your office, Ms. Trumbo. Our
       representative, Ryan Robbins, will call you during the week of May 5 to arrange an


10.7   Document for Analysis: Favor Refusal (Objs. 1–3)

        Fails to open with a positive statement leading up to refusal statement.
        Hits the reader over the head with the absurdity and possible illegality of the favor
374    Part III Lecture Notes

          Offers an explanation but does so with negativity and arrogance.
          Fails to take advantage of opportunity to build goodwill with alternative.
          Makes reader work too hard to see that an alternative is being offered.
          Concludes with self-centered statement that fails to show the reader how to act on the


       Current date

       Mr. Blake Dahlke
       Senior Correspondent
       Marketing and Management Today
       309 Fifth Avenue
       New York, NY 10011

       Dear Mr. Dahlke:

       The article you are now researching for Strategic Marketing sounds fascinating, and we
       are flattered that you wish to include our organization. Among our salespeople, we do
       have many ―ascending stars‖ who are commanding top salaries.

       Each of our salespeople operates under an individual salary contract. During salary
       negotiations several years ago, an agreement was reached in which both sales staff
       members and management agreed to keep the terms of these individual contracts
       confidential. Although specific salaries and commission rates cannot be released, we can
       provide you with a ranked list of our top salespeople for the past five years. Three of the
       current leaders are under the age of 35.

       Enclosed is a fact sheet regarding our top salespeople. We wish you every success with
       your article, and we hope to see our organization represented in it.


       Enclosure: Sales Fact Sheet

10.8   Document for Analysis: Refusing a Job Applicant (Objs. 1, 2, and 5)

        Opens with such enthusiastic language that reader is misled about what will follow.
        Reveals dangerous information that may motivate litigation.
        Shows little respect for reader’s feelings.
        Uses many subordinate clauses but not skillfully.
        Includes more negative language than is necessary.
                                                            Chapter 10 Negative Messages        375


       Current date

       Mr. Mark Richardson
       3290 Lakeshore Drive
       Canandaigua, NY 14424

       Dear Mr. Richardson:

       Mr. Rhodes and I were pleased to interview you last Thursday and tell you something
       about Vortec Enterprises and its operations.

       We were fortunate to have a number of well-qualified individuals apply for the position
       of human resources assistant. To fill this position, we hired a graduate of Ohio University
       who seemed to have the qualities we sought. We wanted to write you immediately to
       enable you to continue your job search.

       You have our best wishes in finding exactly the right position to match your background
       and education.


10.9   Negative News in Other Cultures (Obj. 6)
       This can be a revealing and instructive exercise for students. Although responses will
       obviously vary, your students may find that other cultures are quite concerned with
       saving face. This assignment would make a challenging but interesting long report.

10.10 through 10.29 Solutions in the form of transparency masters are available at the end
       of this manual.

Ethics Check Solutions

Ethics Check, Page 280
Rate This Apology
District Attorney Mike Nifong apologized to three Duke University lacrosse players that he
had indicted on charges of attacking an exotic dancer. How ethical and effective is his
apology? “To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I
apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused.”

This is a classic example of an unethical, lame excuse rather than an apology. Nifong limits his
―apology‖ with the phrase to the extent, thereby negating the following words. By saying that he
―made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect,‖ he refuses to accept responsibility. This
―apology‖ is insincere and does not accept responsibility when he alone clearly caused egregious
376    Part III Lecture Notes

Ethics Check, page 295
Canned by E-Mail
RadioShack recently used e-mail to fire about 400 employees at its Fort Worth
headquarters. The messages said, “The work force reduction notification is currently in
progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated.” Is it ethical to send
such bad news by e-mail, and how do you feel about the tone of the message?

Management experts find such tactics ―dehumanizing‖ for the employees, and most students
would probably agree that it’s preferable to break bad news about dismissal in person rather than
by e-mail.

Photo Essay Solutions

Photo Essay, Page 275
When delivering bad news, business communicators often use an indirect strategy. Being indirect
shows sensitivity to the reader and allows a company to develop explanations that soften the
impact of negative news. However, being indirect when announcing layoffs may be interpreted
as callous or disrespectful to employees. A direct pattern is preferable in situations when
firmness is necessary or when organization policy is involved.

Photo Essay, Page 289
In crisis situations where the business is at fault, management should first try to ease customer
tensions through personal contact, such as a phone call or meeting. If personal contact is not
possible, managers should write letters of apology that establish a record of the incident, provide
helpful information, and promote goodwill.

          Video Resources
Instructors may show the Bridging the Gap video from Video Library 2, BuyCostumes.
Instructors will find a complete discussion guide and activity solution for this video presented in
this Instructor’s Manual.

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