Good news…about delivering bad news!

 Jul 29, 2015

To write well in a business context, you must find ways to relate to your audience and respond to their needs, even when you cannot give them what they want.

If you cannot skillfully deliver bad news, you might endanger your job, alienate your work colleagues, damage client relationships, or expose your company to a lawsuit.

So for my post today I want to share with you some techniques for delivering bad-news messages in writing.

Passive voice as a strategy

The passive voice is a sentence structure that indicates that an action is performed while avoiding any mention of who performs the action. Because passive sentences leave out the performer of the action, they can be used to deflect blame or be strategically vague about who is responsible for the action.

Common-ground buffer statement

A common-ground buffer statement is an introductory paragraph that seeks to soften the impact of bad news by finding something in common with the audience. The common ground can include agreement on general principles, goals, or specific aspects of a situation, in order to reduce the sense of an antagonistic relationship.

Praise buffer statement

A praise buffer statement is an introductory paragraph that seeks to soften the impact of bad news by initially praising the audience for a contribution or an achievement. In general, the praise should be specific to the audience, not merely praising someone for taking the time to write.

Cooperative buffer statement

A cooperative buffer statement is an introductory paragraph that seeks to soften the impact of bad news by emphasizing that everything has been done to ensure a fair decision. A cooperative buffer statement can indicate the steps taken to resolve a problem, the thoroughness with which a problem was investigated, or the willingness to work together to resolve a complex situation.

Good-news buffer statement

A good-news buffer statement is an introductory paragraph that seeks to soften the impact of bad news by emphasizing the positive aspects of an essentially negative message. If the message is not uniformly negative, you can place the bad news in a more positive framework.

What not to commit to writing

In your business correspondence, you should not commit to writing anything that is fraudulent, invades another’s privacy, or defames someone’s character. This is particularly important in bad-news messages, where you are denying a claim or questioning a customer’s version of events.


Puffery is legally making excessive claims in advertising, provided the intent is not to deceive. The law does allow companies to make excessive claims in advertising, provided that the intent is not to deceive. Some claims are legally protected as opinion, while others are legally considered puffery.

For instance, a company making the claim that their product is the best on the market is expressing an opinion, while if they claim that their product will last for years to come, they are engaged in legal puffery.

In summary, by learning these basic strategies for writing bad-news messages you can avoid such pitfalls and contribute to an effective and congenial atmosphere.

To learn more about our business writing programs and our other workplace performance programs please visit our Professional Development Portfolio.

Until next time always remember, appreciate what you have got and not what you haven’t got.

Stan Thomas

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About the Author:

Stan Thomas  

Stan has been working in a professional training capacity for over 15 years and possesses a wealth of knowledge in the areas of adult education gained through both formal study and practical training delivery both nationally and internationally. As the Professional Development Manager for New Horizons Melbourne, Stan is responsible for the delivery, quality control and enhancement of existing and new programs at New Horizons.

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