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     Volume 4 Issue 48 | May 27, 2005 |

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Useful Tips on Conveying Negative Messages

Chowdhury Abd-Allah Quaseed

Whenever we are placed in situations where we have to: deny a request; refuse an application; inform about a tragedy or a failure; avoid a special favour; inform that some problem cannot be rectified; provide explanations about lapses in services or commitments; inform of the intention to discontinue a personal or business relationship; place a complaint or say anything that may be unpleasant for the recipient it is a situation requiring the conveying of a "negative message", and hence requires tact that needs to be carefully groomed. Whether the "negative message" needs to be conveyed in writing or in speech, similar principles apply for the development of this special kind of diplomacy and here are a few pointers to that end. The ultimate philosophy of all "tips" or "guidelines" is to find such a way to convey the message that the severity of the impact on the recipient can be minimized without changing the accuracy of the content or hampering relationships.

Being indirect:
Before simply delivering a "negative message", one needs to understand that the message could be painful for the recipient/s and therefore should try imagining themselves in the same situation, and think in what form they would have preferred the same message to be presented. Some call this "sugar coating", and erroneously believe that it's far more "praiseworthy" to be "straight forward" and "direct", but they should ask themselves that if the same information can be conveyed in a less hurtful manner, then why should they not resort to the diplomatic method? They should also question themselves about what greatness is achieved in causing some extra suffering, especially since it can be avoided. Telling someone "sorry, your application has been rejected", would damage a person's self esteem, but saying "we would welcome you to try for this job next year please" conveys the accurate information of rejection, but does not hurt the sentiments of the applicant.

Not getting too long-winded:
The indirectness cannot be overdone and the message cannot be camouflaged within too many optimistic notes as that may seem patronizing.

Offering explanations and reasons first:
If one has to decline a request or explain a lapse or failure, it's always best to begin by providing the explanations of why the task may have been very difficult or of what obstacles lay in the path of the fulfillment of the assignment, and then gradually give the negative message. However the explanations cannot get so long that the recipient loses patience.

Sandwiching the bad news between layers of hope:
Showing optimism and providing explanations at the start, and expressing hope for better results in the future, at the finish, with the bad news compressed in-between, is the best proven way to convey news of any failure. Even regarding things where future scopes may not lie, it's always best to provide some apologies and consolation at the end.

Offering sympathy of empathy:
Rather than just only consoling, it helps to offer sympathy and understanding. It's even better to empathise by sharing similar experiences as that makes the recipient of the negative message feel less isolated.

Never to show pity:
One needs to demarcate between feelings like sympathy and empathy as opposed to "pity" which ends up making the recipient feel as though the giver of the message is looking at him/her in a condescending manner.

Appearing sincere:
It's very important to appear sincere while expressing optimism, consolation, sympathy or empathy to avoid hurting the recipient further. Words have to be chosen carefully and the body language has to match with the total presentation, especially when giving the news in face to face interactions.

Pointing out alternatives:
A lot of the times, the recipient of a rejection message feels at a loss, and does not know what else to do. In such a situation if the giver of the negative message can help by indicating some solutions or alternatives, it not only helps the recipient, but improves the relationship between the giver and the recipient of the negative message.

Offering extra help in other avenues:
One of the best ways to deny a request or a favour is to offer some extra help in some other avenue which would not be difficult for the one who is denying. Expressing greatest interest in fulfilling future requests, but making no promises, giving possible reasons for present failure or inability and indication of whole hearted intention to still try are the best researched ways of turning down undue requests!

It is hoped that practicing even some of these simple and "easy to remember" guidelines would help the reader get through difficult and maybe even embarrassing situations requiring the conveying of negative messages in personal as well as official life. Best of luck in handling such situations!

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