Introduction to Business Letters: Positive and Negative Messages
An introductory business letter is supposed to make a good impression with a potential customer (called a prospect). Writing a letter to introduce your business to someone involves shifting the focus to your correspondent, engaging his or her interest, and launching a conversation, rather than a lecture:
- Start with a bang. Open with a sentence that grabs interest and establishes a reason to keep reading.
- Introduce yourself in terms that matter to the person to whom you’re writing. If you can, refer to a previous meeting or mutual acquaintance.
- Tell the prospect what you can do for him or her. Explain your offering by conveying benefits that the prospect can count on, rather than simply reciting a list of the features involved.
- Keep your letter short. Keep sentences short. Keep paragraphs short. And limit the length to a single page.
- Make a clear point. Maybe you just want to say thanks. Maybe you want to tell the person that you’ll be calling next week. Maybe you want to set an appointment. Or maybe you want to announce a good deal.
- Edit and proofread. Delete as many I’s as you can. Then read the letter for accuracy, double checking that you’ve spelled the recipient’s name and address perfectly.
- Sign your letter. Amidst all the junk mail, a personally worded letter with an original signature on good stationery can make a great impression.
Delivering Good or Neutral News
Hopefully, most of the communication you will do in the workplace will involve giving neutral or good news. Usually, a direct approach is best. Consider the context in which most people receive workplace communication. Some studies have found that the average worker receives 90 emails per day and sends 40 emails per day. Now, imagine that every time the worker receives an email, they need to spend 1 minute re-reading it because the point of the email was not immediately obvious. That would be 1.5 hours of wasted time! If you factor in lost productivity due to miscommunication, the cost is even higher.
When it comes to neutral or positive messages, usually the best strategy is to get to the point. Make it clear:
- Why you’re writing.
- What supporting details the reader needs to know.
- If the reader needs to do anything.
It’s this last point that business communicators often stumble on. They give the information, but forget to tell the audience what to do with the information. The reader is left wondering whether they’re just supposed to be aware that the information exists, or if they’re supposed to act on it in some way.
One helpful tip is to end the communication by looking towards the future. Tell the reader what you want them to do. If they merely need to be aware of the information, you could use a phrase like “If you have any questions, let me know.” If they need to do something, state it clearly. For example, you might say, “Please send your changes to this document to me by Thursday at 10 am so that I can get them into the final draft.”
You might find this format helpful:
- Be direct:start with the good news to put the reader in a positive frame of mind.
- Give supporting details, explanation and commentary.These should be clearly organized. If you have a large amount of information, you may choose to use bullet points, headings or links/attachments.
- If there are any drawbacks, state them clearly but positively. (“Please mail the defective phone back so that we can issue you a new model).
- End with a note of thanks or congratulations.
A bad news message (or negative news message) delivers news that the audience does not want to hear, read, or receive. Delivering negative news is never easy. Whether you are informing someone they are being laid off or providing constructive criticism on their job performance, how you choose to deliver the message can influence its response.
Some people prefer their bad news to be direct and concise. Others may prefer a less direct approach. How you break bad news will also depend on your culture, your family and norms of your industry. For example, people in India might be very direct with their family and close friends, but use an indirect approach in a workplace setting.
Regardless of whether you determine a direct or indirect approach is warranted, your job is to deliver news that you anticipate will be unwelcome, unwanted, and possibly dismissed.
There are seven goals to keep in mind when delivering negative news, in person or in written form:
- Be clear and concise to minimize the chances of confusion or back-and-forth communication.
- Help the receiver understand and accept the news.
- Maintain trust and respect for the business or organization and for the receiver.
- Avoid legal liability or erroneous admission of guilt or culpability.
- Maintain the relationship, even if a formal association is being terminated. (Note: this only applies to situations where you want the relationship to continue. When dealing with an abusive client, for example, your goal might be to clearly sever the relationship).
- Reduce the anxiety associated with the negative news to increase comprehension.
- Achieve the designated business outcome.