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As we mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, some people prefer their bad news to be direct and concise, while others prefer a less direct approach. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each approach. Table 17.2 "Direct and Indirect Delivery" contrasts the elements of the two approaches.

Table 17.2 Direct and Indirect Delivery

Direct Delivery

Direct Example

Indirect Delivery

Indirect Example


Positive introduction

Thank you for your request for leave.

Negative news message as introduction

Your request for leave has been denied.

Negative news message

We regret to inform you that your request has been denied.


Please contact your supervisor if you need more information.


Please contact your supervisor if you need more information.

The direct approach places the negative news at the beginning of the message, while the indirect approach packages the negative news between a positive introduction, sometimes called a “buffer” or cushion, and a conclusion. Your negative message may include the rationale or reasons for the decision.

The direct approach is often associated with a message where the audience values brevity and the message needs to be concise. A positive introduction often introduces the topic but not the outcome. An effective negative news statement clearly states the message while limiting the possibility of misinterpretation. An effective closing statement may provide reasons, reference a policy, or indicate a procedure to follow for more information.

Key Takeaway

Delivering negative news involves a buffer or cushion statement, an explanation, the negative news itself, and a redirecting statement. Whether you choose a direct or an indirect approach, the message should be delivered clearly and concisely, with respect for the receiver and the organization.


  1. When should you use an indirect approach in delivering a negative news message? Explain your answer to the class.
  2. Ask five friends which they would prefer: negative news in a direct or indirect format? Why? Discuss your results with a classmate.
  3. Sales have decreased for two consecutive quarters at your business. You have been instructed to inform your sales team that their hours, and base pay, will be reduced by 20 percent. While you may have a few members of your sales team that are underperforming, you want to retain the entire team. Write a negative news message in a direct or indirect approach informing your sales team of the news.
  4. You have observed and documented an employee being late and taking long breaks for the past two weeks. Write out a brief summary of the conversation you need to have. You may be assigned to another classmate for a role-playing exercise. Share and compare with your classmates.


Bovee, C., & Thill, J. (2010). Business communication essentials: A skills-based approach to vital business English (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Limaye, Mohan R. (1997, June 1). Further conceptualization of explanation in negative messages. Business Communication Quarterly, 60(2), 38–50.

Covey, S. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Yardley, William. (2009, September 6). 2,000 Washington state students report signs of swine flu. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/health/06flu.html?_r=1