While the ever-evolving technology is enabling faster methods of exchanging information, the business letter remains the foundation of all business communication. Professionals are expected to understand and apply the standard business letter formats in their written correspondence with internal and external audiences. Among the most difficult letters to write are those that inform the reader of bad news. No one likes to receive bad news, and keeping the good-will of the recipients can be a challenge.
You are the owner of Right-On-Time Construction, specializing in office and manufacturing remodeling. About a month ago, your company got a contract from a small bearing manufacturing company to update their break room. Their current break room needed soundproofing installed on two walls and the walls and ceiling painted, as well as the old floor cleaned and waxed. You have also ordered two new refrigerators, a new microwave, and new furniture. You originally promised that the space would be ready for use by February 16. Until yesterday, the project has been on schedule with the soundproofing installed, and the walls and ceiling painted.
Unfortunately, you just got word from your project supervisor about a serious problem with the project. The crew assigned to clean the tile floor has notified you that several tiles came loose when they started the cleaning process. In addition, they informed you that they discovered from the loose tiles that they contained asbestos. This means that the entire floor needs to be removed by a special asbestos removal crew and new flooring installed. This will take an additional week, as well as add substantial costs to the project. (Make up a reasonable amount.)
The result is that the break room will not be ready for use until Monday, February 26. You know your customer is not going to be happy with this delay, but this was beyond your control, and you are doing the best you can to get the project done as soon as possible and keep additional costs reasonable. You have qualified asbestos removal personnel on your staff who can start work on the removal on Monday of next week. You have also priced similar-looking replacement tile, but need his approval of the costs before ordering them or beginning the removal work.
Your task is to prepare a letter to John Smith, owner of the bearing company letting him know of this disappointing information, and asking him to contact you immediately to approve the additional expense. Make up a fictional return address for yourself and a fictional address for Mr. Smith and his company.
Note: It is OK to add minor details that make sense if you want to offer a “silver lining.” (Silver linings are not necessary, however.) In other words, you can make up some logical details about the delay, as long as you do not change the details of the letter assignment. However, you should not go as far as doing something like offering a large discount on the project invoice or throwing in expensive additions to the project.
Date your letter February 14, 2018.
Details on Assignment
Your letter should follow the pattern described in Chapter 7, Section 2, of your textbook:
· An opening paragraph that is neutral, but does NOT give away the bad news here. Should build good-will with the reader by using one or more of the techniques listed in section 7-2a
· A body that provides a buffering explanation (facts, analysis, and reasons) for the bad news, then states the bad news. The point here is that a reader is much more likely to accept bad news if he or she knows why it is necessary. Use techniques described in 7-2b to provide this buffering explanation which is logical and shows a benefit to the reader. Also use techniques described in 7-2c to position the bad news statement strategically and use positive language, rather than negative language which stresses the bad news. You can also use techniques described in Section 7-2d on “silver linings” if appropriate to the situation.
· A closing that shifts focus away from the bad news by looking forward, is positive, and indicates a continuing relationship with the receiver. Use techniques described in 7-2e.
Text book lists with info to use in paper
· Compliment. A message denying a customer’s request could begin by recognizing the customer’s promptness in making payments.
· Point of agreement. A sentence that reveals agreement with a statement made in the message could get the message off to a positive discussion of other points.
· Good news. When a message contains a request that must be refused and another that is being answered favorably, beginning with the favorable answer can be effective.
· Resale. A claim refusal could begin with some favorable statement about the product.
· Review. Refusal of a current request could be introduced by referring to the initial transaction or by reviewing certain circumstances that preceded the transaction.
· Gratitude. In spite of the unjustified request, the audience might have done or said something for which you are grateful. An expression of gratitude could be used as a positive beginning.
· Position the bad-news statement strategically. Using the inductive outline positions the bad-news statement in a less important position—sandwiched between an opening buffer statement and a positive closing. Additionally, the refusal statement should be included in the same paragraph as the reasons, since placing it in a paragraph by itself would give too much emphasis to the bad news. When the preceding explanation is tactful and relevant, resentment over the bad news is minimized. Positioning the bad-news statement in the dependent clause of a complex sentence will also cushion the bad news. This technique places the bad news in a less visible, less emphatic position. In the sentence, “Although the company’s current financial condition prevents us from providing raises this year, we hope to make up for the freeze when conditions improve,” the emphasis is directed toward a promise of raises at another time.
· Use passive voice, general terms, and abstract nouns. Review the emphasis techniques that you studied in Chapter 3 as you consider methods for presenting bad news with human relations in mind.
· Use positive language to accentuate the positive. Simply focus on the good instead of the bad, the pleasant instead of the unpleasant, or what can be done instead of what cannot be done. Compared with a negative idea presented in negative terms, a negative idea presented in positive terms is more likely to be accepted. When you are tempted to use the following terms, search instead for words or ideas that sound more positive:
Words That Evoke Negative Feelings
complaint incompetent misled
regrettable error inexcusable mistake
unfortunate failure lied neglect wrong
Words That Evoke Positive Feelings
accurate concise enthusiasm productive
approval durable generous recommendation
assist energetic gratitude respect
· Imply the refusal when the audience can understand the message without a definite statement of the bad news. By implying the “No” answer, the response has the following positive characteristics: (1) it uses positive language, (2) it conveys reasons or at least a positive attitude, and (3) it seems more respectful. For example, during the noon hour one employee says to another, “Will you go with me to see this afternoon’s baseball game?” “No, I won’t,” communicates a negative response, but it seems unnecessarily direct and harsh. The same message (invitation is rejected) can be clearly stated in an indirect way (by implication) by saying “I must get my work done,” or even, “I’m a football fan.” Note the positive tone of the following implied refusals:
I wish I could.
· Other responsibilities prohibit, but recipient would like to accept.
Had you selected our newest calling plan, you could have reduced your monthly rates by 10% or more.
· States a condition under which the answer would have been “Yes” instead of “No.” Note the use of the subjunctive words “had” and “could.”
By accepting the new terms, Southern Wood Products would have doubled its energy costs.
· States the obviously unacceptable results of complying with a request.
· De-emphasize the unpleasant part of the message. End on a positive note that takes the emphasis away from the bad news previously presented. A statement of refusal (or bad news) in the last sentence or paragraph would place too much emphasis on it.Preferably, reasons (instead of bad news) should remain uppermost in the audience’s mind. Placing bad news last would make the ending seem cold and abrupt. When no reasonable counterproposal is apparent, the sender might be able to offer a silver lining thought that turns the discussion back into the positive direction.
· Add a unifying quality to the message. Make your final sentence an appropriate closing that brings a unifying quality to the whole message. Repetition of a word or reference to some positive idea that appears earlier in the message serves this purpose well. Avoid restatement of the refusal or direct reference to it. This paragraph is usually shorter than the preceding explanatory paragraphs, often one or two sentences.
· Include a positive, forward-looking idea. This idea might include a reference to some pleasant aspect of the preceding discussion, or a future aspect of the business relationship, resale or sales promotion, or an offer to help in some way. Consider the following closures that apply these suggestions:
· Reference to some pleasant aspect of the preceding discussion:
“Your decision to refinance your mortgage last year was a wise choice.” Home mortgage and other provisions had been mentioned in the earlier part of a letter to a client who was refused a double-indemnity settlement.
· Use of resale or sales promotional material:
“Selecting our new hybrid Breeze with its 50-miles-per-gallon fuel usage was a wise decision with today’s gas prices.” A reminder that the hybrid has superior gas mileage will assist in regaining goodwill after a customer’s request for free repair has been refused.
· An expression of willingness to assist in some other way:
Specifically, you might offer an alternative solution to the audience’s problem, or useful information that could not be presented logically with the bad news. “Our representative will show you some samples during next week’s sales call.” The samples are being proposed as a possible solution to the reader’s problem.
AVOID INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING TYPES OF STATEMENTS IN THE CLOSING PARAGRAPH:
· Trite statements that might seem shallow and superficial. The well-worn statement “Thank you for your interest” is often used thoughtlessly. It might seem shallow and superficial. “When we can be of further help, please do not hesitate to call or write” is also well worn and negative. Further help might seem especially inappropriate to someone who has just read a denial.
· Statements that could undermine the validity of your refusal. The statement “We trust this explanation is satisfactory” or “We hope you will understand our position” could be taken as a confession of doubt about the validity of the decision. Use of position seems to heighten controversy; positions are expected to be defended. Saying “We are sorry to disappoint you” risks a negative reply: “If it made you feel so bad, why did you do it?” It can also be interpreted as an apology for the action taken. If a decision merits an apology, its validity might be questionable.
· Statements that encourage future controversy.Statements such as “If you have questions, please do not hesitate to let us know” could also be perceived as doubt and possibly communicate a willingness to change the decision. If the decision is firm, including this type of closing could result in your having to communicate the negative message a second time.