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How to Write a Bad News Business Letter

Updated on March 6, 2008

Sometimes in business you simply cannot avoid writing a letter that has bad news. However, you can try to write the letter in such a way as to maintain a good relationship with the recipient, as well as breaking the bad news in the easiest way. You don’t want to burn any bridges in business, so it really is to your advantage to write an effective bad news letter.

When writing the letter, your objectives should focus on:

  1. Minimizing damage to the relationship: Bad , news should not define the relationship.
  2. Showing that the decision is fair and reasonable: Imagine yourself in the reader’s shoes, and try to offer the best explanation possible.
  3. Stating the bad news clearly and firmly:
  • Opening should have a buffer to minimize any damage to the relationship. Use a positive or neutral opening to maintain goodwill.
  • Body should include reasons to help the reader see it from your point of view. You want to show that you are being both fair and reasonable. Be clear and firm about the bad news, but also be brief, positive, and low key about it.
  • Closing should contain an appropriate gesture of goodwill, and perhaps a potential solution for the reader’s problem.

When writing your bad news business letter, use the Cheeseburger Structure:

Bad News Letter Example #1

Dear Bill,

Your invitation for me to act as chairperson for BCCJ’s upcoming Annual Auction Dinner is an honor. I enjoyed serving in that role last year. Your members are an excellent group with great ideas, and it was a privilege to work with them.

This year I am involved in developing a new department here at the clinic that is taking up all my time. As much as I would enjoy working with BCCJ again, I am afraid that I wouldn’t be able to give the duties the attention the project deserves.

Perhaps I may suggest one of my colleagues who would have the time to do the job the way it ought to be done. Give me a call if you are interested, and I will be happy to suggest some names for you. We want the industry to be well represented.

I wish you and the committee great success in achieving this year’s goal.

The letter was straight forward and polite. The writer provided an excellent reason for the refusal of the position, but also left the door open for a future relationship. As well, the writer provided a possible solution at the end.

Bad News Business Letter Example #2

Dear Ms. Hodges,

Thank you for ordering our professional Chinese wok set. You will find that wok-cooked foods are both delicious and quick to fix.

We have sent you an added bonus: 2 extra inches of cooking area, thanks to our supplier’s generosity. This 16-inch wok is more efficient than the advertised 14-inch wok. Now you can create Chinese meals with a professional flair with this package that includes cooking racks, chopsticks, a rice paddle, and a steel turner, in addition to a wok base and lid. To complete your collection, the skewers and cookbook will arrive by April 22.

Remember that Figby’s offers specialized items for all your cooking needs. Please stop by on May 10 for a free demonstration on preparing Japanese sushi. You may also want to take advantage of our special prices on Japanese cookware, which will only be available that week.

Sincerely,

Harry Figby

This bad news letter covers the fact that the wok Ms. Hodges ordered is not available by upgrading it to a better, bigger wok. As well, it is so positive in tone that the reader might not realize that the entire set she ordered hasn’t arrived on time, as two pieces of it will arrive later. This bad news letter did not focus at all on the negative, but delivered its message in a positive way. Harry Figby also extended an opportunity for a future relationship by informing Ms. Hodges of upcoming sales and events.

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    • profile image

      Andy 4 years ago

      Thank you so much.

    • profile image

      abdenour 4 years ago

      Very Useful letters with real life examples

      thanks

    • profile image

      khalid 4 years ago

      good informtion

    • profile image

      kiran 5 years ago

      its great example n help full too :)

    • profile image

      Gulshaan Maqsood 5 years ago

      very nice and great lgic use by writer

    • profile image

      H H RAI 5 years ago

      GOOD INFORMATION ABOUT HOW TO DELIVER BAD NEWS

    • profile image

      Muhammad Yasir 5 years ago

      Nice to see the examples. In bad news letter , there is no "No Word " directly but off-course indirectly . Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Ghansham 5 years ago

      I really appreciate from these two examples I got a lot of knowledge from these examples thanx sir

    • profile image

      sneha 5 years ago

      good example of gooddwill

    • profile image

      sneha 5 years ago

      good example of gooddwill

    • profile image

      ghulam ali pitafi 5 years ago

      good explanation is given.

    • profile image

      samira sultana 5 years ago

      Exellent example.all are good epecially the cheese burger formet is great.

      thanks a lot for creative structure to share ....

    • profile image

      sameer 5 years ago

      gud example

    • profile image

      umair ilyas 5 years ago

      burger example is very usefull

    • profile image

      Dhruvang 5 years ago

      Very helpful post

      Thank you very much

    • profile image

      zoha 5 years ago

      thanks it help me allot in my studies

    • profile image

      George White 5 years ago

      Any sample on how to deliver a bad news email letter to customer who's device warranty expired?

    • profile image

      Wahid 5 years ago

      There are outstanding first example along with also second example bed news letter. it was very consequently words and proper form just like burger type position

    • profile image

      Former CSer 6 years ago

      As previously mentioned, the second letter is very well written, but is not an ideal letter to send unless you know your recipient and their needs quite well. It is imperative to explain the situation to the customer, to keep them from feeling tricked or mislead. If I were to receive that letter, I would immediately know that something was wrong with my order, and would then have to reach out to get to the bottom of the issue - if it had been stated ahead of time, I would simply let the situation be.

      This is obviously not true of every recipient, but during my time as a Sales Consultant and Sales Supervisor, I have seen enough emails and letters to know that many customers would send back an anxious or angry reply. Like the previous commenter said, size especially is often a huge factor in the purchase of an item, especially a kitchen item; the customer may need that specific size for their dishes or stove to, and may not appreciate feeling as though their order was disregarded and not listened to.

    • profile image

      Barbie 6 years ago

      Hi, I deeply appreciate the cheese-burger example. It has made the content interesting, systematic, and easy to understand.

      Thanks for sharing your scholarly ideas.

    • profile image

      kolo pachinko 6 years ago

      thnx very useful

    • profile image

      Mlika Azhar 6 years ago

      jzak Allah for very useful information and examples

    • profile image

      dave is correct 6 years ago

      I wouldn't do business with Figby's ever again. That "bad news" letter is garbage; obfuscation. How 'bout fessing up, just a little.

      Thank the Lord I don't have to deal with people like that.

    • profile image

      siamirza 6 years ago

      very thankful information i learn a lot

    • profile image

      sona & tammy 6 years ago

      it was awesome ,it really help us to answer the question of our mam

    • profile image

      minhgiau@yahoo.com 6 years ago

      It's very useful advise. Thank you very much

    • profile image

      Finda 6 years ago

      Thanks, the cheesburger example has been helpful.

    • profile image

      funky23 6 years ago from Deutschland

      i belive i saw that on the register today

    • wpexplorer profile image

      wpexplorer 6 years ago from USA

      I liked this article a lot. I feel that most the time people like to write about the things "we should do" and not the things "you shouldn't do". You did a great job here. Very useful - thanks!

    • profile image

      banuel 6 years ago

      Reading this i finally took a break from my job. This post just gave me a few minutes of relax =] I tried to find a rss feed on your site so that i could subscribe for some more. Ill be sure to come here more often from now on =]

      Business Loan

    • profile image

      ghazala 6 years ago

      very useful and very well written

    • profile image

      qamar abbasi 6 years ago

      thanks,i learn a lot

    • profile image

      Mava 6 years ago

      Quite useful,

      Thanks

    • profile image

      marva 6 years ago

      good idea

    • profile image

      zainab 6 years ago

      examples are good but not related to academic point of view.i need a sample of refusal letter from educational institute..............thanx

    • profile image

      YNi 6 years ago

      It is a great help for me to unfortunately I have an exam of managerial communication, it helps since i couldn't get it on any books that I refered...

      Thanks a lot

    • profile image

      Dheen 7 years ago

      I like the communication style and good formatting.Useful Idea.

      Thanks

    • profile image

      hammad 7 years ago

      thanks i got the main idea from example 1......

    • profile image

      adnan  7 years ago

      oh i got assignment of bad news that's why i like to remmeber the chees burger structure in my mind while delivering presentation on bad news letters.

    • profile image

      ALI 7 years ago

      A VERY HELPFUL INFO . V.NICE

    • profile image

      cici 7 years ago

      i just want to know the reason why we should choose a beast way to tell a bad news

    • profile image

      Hiba 7 years ago

      Great example.. Thankyou!

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 7 years ago from At the Gemba

      Good hub, loved the burger illustration, BUT; what about the lettuce???

    • profile image

      merja ndiili 7 years ago

      great examples.... using it for my english notes. i see good marks comin my way

    • profile image

      cecilia 7 years ago

      good materials. it will do great help to us

    • profile image

      asra liaquat 7 years ago

      thanks for given this information and i like burger example this is very easy.

    • profile image

      Frank Crandell 7 years ago

      Good set of standard letters with which to draw from the next time I need to share some bad news.

    • profile image

      MerryBaloch 7 years ago

      Really! if every bad news would be written on this format than there won't be damages in relationships..........

    • profile image

      rahim aman  7 years ago

      hay thanks for such kind of information really its great

    • profile image

      mr's farrukh rai  8 years ago

      very great informations

    • profile image

      roheel 8 years ago

      great information. very useful.thanx

    • profile image

      fatima shaika 8 years ago

      thanks for giving the best example.

    • profile image

      Shadman khanzada 8 years ago

      thanxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx i got what i want to know through the above sample

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 8 years ago from India

      Love the burger illustration. Really great hub.

    • ontheway profile image

      ontheway 8 years ago

      How to Write a Bad News Business Letter

      very good, I support you, come on , welcome to my hub!

    • profile image

      iMindMap 8 years ago

      Thanks for the key point to be more effective in writing.

    • profile image

      Josh Chandler 8 years ago

      This hub gives the bad news in a good way, a great way to show how exactly to set out a "bad business letter", I have certainly learnt a bunch from the information you have provided on this page, thanks a lot!

    • livelovecoffee profile image

      livelovecoffee 8 years ago from Georgia

      These are great tips and it is very informative! Great hub

    • Ken Devonald profile image

      Ken Devonald 8 years ago from Edinburgh

      Thanks for the tips! Will come in handy!

    • businessbooster profile image

      businessbooster 8 years ago from Somerset UK

      Where i used to work we called the cheeseburger structure the s**t sandwich!

    • profile image

      Vietnam 8 years ago

      Thanks for your useful information

    • profile image

      Amit 8 years ago

      Good Information. Great example...Thanks

    • profile image

      amoxicillin 500 8 years ago

      Great and useful information. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • BizzyMuse profile image

      BizzyMuse 8 years ago from Southern California

      Stacie - great hub with a lot of useful information. I find myself having to write more of those bad news business letters lately. I'm going to keep the cheeseburger in mind!

    • Stacie Naczelnik profile image
      Author

      Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

      Thanks Jim! Glad to hear others in the field find it applicable.

    • crashcromwell profile image

      crashcromwell 9 years ago from Florida

      Hi Stacie! I teach Contemporary Business Communications for the University of Phoenix online, and we actually have an assignment related to this subject, which is why I chose to read this hub. You handled the subject impeccably well. As I would say to one of my students, you hit the ball out of the park!

      Jim Henry, aka crashcromwell

    • misterpm profile image

      misterpm 9 years ago from Netherlands

      Thx! I like the cheeseburger structure

    • greathub profile image

      greathub 9 years ago from Earth

      I liked the burger's example. Great example!

    • johnleybolt profile image

      johnleybolt 9 years ago

      i got a piece of bad news letter :-)

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 9 years ago from Jaipur

      a very good, bad news letter. I really apreciate it. I would like to join ur fan club.You are needed in the business forum.

      I am ur fan now.

      I have written some hubs on business you may check this and advice.

      Thanks,

      Jyoti

    • RyanRE profile image

      RyanRE 9 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Nice Hub. Nobody likes to hear bad news. I bet you are pretty good at the "breakup" speech too. LOL...

    • rainmakerrain profile image

      rainmakerrain 9 years ago from United States

      I've used the approach of the second example many times--and its success really depends on the products you offer. Size, for example, is a very important feature for most people, and you should never assume that larger is better. In the second example, I'd first let the customer know that the product is unavailable and offer a solution - the larger product. Sending a product of different size without notice might create a lot of problems, especially with shipping, refunding, and losing goodwill no matter how positive you are.

    • Veronica profile image

      Veronica 9 years ago from NY

      Great Hub! Great ideas! The organization of the letters really facilitates the point with professionalism, positiveness and flow. I like how you broke it down, then gave the two examples. Really well done.

    • Joel McDonald profile image

      Joel McDonald 9 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Excellent hub Stacie!

      I often have to deal with confrontation, and sometimes, it's EXTREMELY hard to start off in the positive, but you're absolutely right -- whenever I do things that way, the dialogue goes much smoother.

    • stevemark122000 profile image

      stevemark122000 9 years ago from Southern California

      Very useful information, thanks