How to write about bad news in business

Closing your business down? Making staff redundant? Putting prices up? Relocating far away? All these issues and many more need a very sensitive hand when you write about them to the people affected. Here are some tips to help you do it as well as possible.

Sometimes in business we have write about something bad or negative – to customers, clients, suppliers, employees, stock/share holders, etc.

Here, unlike you do with most other forms of business writing, you must not look for features and benefits. Trying to turn bad news into good, or trying to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” as the saying goes – might make readers think you’re dishonest. With bad news it is important to say it now, honestly – and then move on to what happens next.

By dealing with the bad news honestly and then telling readers what will happen next, you help them to move on from the bad news. Obviously in this case, there isn’t much “in it for them.” But if they know what is going to happen as a result of the bad news, they are on the way to recovering from the problem.

Many organizations are frightened of bad news, and so try to make it seem less bad when they write about it. All this achieves, is to make everything worse for the readers, because they usually realize that the organization is trying to make the problem look smaller. This then makes them ask themselves how much worse the problem really is; and often they’ll assume it’s a lot worse.

As a result, the problem you started out with becomes an even bigger problem.

By moving on to solutions to the problem rather than the problem itself, you achieve these things and show your readers that:

  • You are honest by telling the truth about the problem
  • You are thinking positively because you have devised solutions to the problem
  • You care about your readers by solving the problem as well as you can
  • You care about the future of your organization

What if there are no solutions?

You can still move on to what happens next, painful though that might appear at first glance. For example:

Closing your business down: we will be providing you with a generous severance package, in addition to which we will pay for you to attend a course of counseling from one of the area’s leading careers specialists if you wish, to help guide you towards the next stage of your career…

Putting prices up: to help compensate you for the rise in our prices we are investing in our back office and delivery systems, along with providing extra training to the relevant staff, to ensure that you receive your goods faster and in more convenient packaging than before…

Relocating far away: for staff who cannot or do not wish to relocate with us, we will provide a substantial redundancy package and a free counseling session with one of the area’s leading careers experts, to guide you to the next stage in your career. For those of you who want to relocate with us, we will provide both financial and practical support as well as detailed information on available housing, schools and recreational amenities in (city.)…

Bankruptcy (to staff): despite the desperate financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, I will provide you with the very finest of references and as much personal support as I can to help you find new employment as soon as possible…

Bankruptcy (to customers): to help compensate you for the closure of my company, shortly I will be sending you a list of our most respected competitors, along with personal recommendations, so you are able to re-establish your supply of (whatever) as soon as possible…

What experiences have you had when writing about bad news? Please share them with us!

Whatever the news, make sure your writing is good:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English