Delivering a Bad News Message

Delivering a Bad News Message

There are two approaches you can use to deliver a negative news message–the direct approach and the indirect approach. We’ll go through each of these in turn.

Direct approach

The direct approach is often used when the audience values brevity, the message needs to be concise, the message is very complex and might not be understood easily, the message is related to a known issue or problem (and bad news won’t be a surprise), or you’re terminating a business relationship.

As shown in Figure 4.11.1, the bad news is announced in the opening or introduction of the message.


Your request for vacation time from August 1-30 was not approved because it is over your vacation days entitlement of 10 days.

Please re-submit your request for vacation days (up to a maximum of 10) to HR as soon as possible.

Figure 4.11.1 An example of a bad news message delivered using the direct approach

Indirect approach

When the bad news may have a significant impact on the recipient or you don’t know them very well, you may prefer to use the indirect approach. Figure 4.11.2 shows an example of a bad news message delivered using this approach.


Thank you for submitting your request for 10 days of vacation (your maximum entitlement) in August.

Summer is traditionally a time when many employees are out of the office and demands on the servers are reduced. In order to minimize the disruption to staff throughout the company, the IT department will be rolling out a server replacement project during July and August. Because this project will need to be completed in a more compressed timeframe, no vacation requests in July and August are possible for staff in the IT department. As a result, your request for vacation during August has not been approved. However, you are welcome to take vacation before and/or after the project rolls out. In compensation, HR is providing IT staff with three extra days of paid vacation.


We look forward to receiving your revised vacation request soon.

Figure 4.11.2 An example of a bad news message delivered using the indirect approach


The indirect approach for delivering bad news has five main parts:

  1. Open with a buffer statement
  2. Explain the situation
  3. Break the bad news
  4. Redirect or provide alternatives
  5. End politely and forward-looking

We’ll go through each of these parts in detail.

Buffer statement

The first part of a negative news message, verbal or written, is a buffer statement. It provides neutral or positive information. It sets the tone and often serves as a cushion for the information to come. It is important that the buffer not be overly positive because this can be misleading or set up the reader to expect a positive news message instead.


Next, an explanation discusses why there is an issue. This may be relatively simple, quite complex, or uncomfortable. While an explanation is important, never admit or imply responsibility without written authorization from your company cleared by legal counsel. Try to avoid labeling the bad news, such as calling it inconvenient or disappointing, because this can assume the feelings of your reader and create a negative impression. The person receiving the message may not have felt badly about receiving the news until you pointed out that it was indeed inconvenient or disappointing.

Break the bad news

The third part of the negative news message involves the bad news itself, and the emphasis here is on clarity and accuracy. While you want to break the bad news clearly, try not to spotlight it.

Redirect or provide alternatives

The fourth part of a bad news message is the redirect, where you refocus attention on a solution strategy, possible alternatives, or the subsequent actions that will take place.

End politely and forward-looking

Last, you want to end your message politely and looking to the future. Don’t mention the bad news again!


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Business Writing For Everyone Copyright © 2021 by Arley Cruthers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book