Doesn’t matter if you’re delivering bad news by letter, email, speech, text, or anything else.
Seems likes common sense, right? Nonetheless, so many people slip into that trap with such regularity.
Think back to the last time you received bad news.
- How did it start? How did you feel at the outset?
- How did the message segue into the real issue? Feeling any better yet?
- How did it end? Feeling comforted, or just as uncertain and unhappy as before?
Notice a trend?
Consider a “compliment sandwich.” It’s just what it sounds like — sandwiching criticism or bad news between compliments to make it more palatable. (Don’t like the term? Try these alternatives: Hopeful Hoagie, Wonderful Wrap. Sunshine Sub.)
From a PR perspective, it’s an effective tool to deliver bad news — like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.
During the holiday season, a client had to deliver bad news to its customers. After several years in business, they’d run into financial trouble and needed to hand over the business to someone else. So they drafted their own letter to break the news. It sounded like this:
“We regret to inform you that even though the holidays are right around the corner, those gift baskets you already paid for won’t be coming from us. [Followed by big words and complicated legal jargon.] We’re hoping someone will swoop in and honor your order, but we can’t promise. [Followed by more legal jargon.] File a claim with the new company. Bye!”
How’d that make you feel? It’s important to cover your tooshie legally, but there are softer ways to do it.
Every letter is different, but a general rule of thumb applies to them all: Take off your business or legal hat. You don’t want to scare people unnecessarily or evoke negative emotions unintentionally.
Ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve? How would receiving a letter like this make me feel? How is it presented? Would I be inclined to pick up the phone and lodge a complaint, or would I sympathize with the situation?”
Of course, a “compliment sandwich” won’t work well if carried to the extreme. For example, you’re not going to build someone’s self-esteem by saying, “You’re great! No, wait, you really suck. But you have nice hair!”
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Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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