Communicating in Organisations Contents

Communicating in Organisations

Communication can be defined as the process by which ideas, information, opinions, attitudes, etc. are conveyed from one person to another.

Organisational communication is about sharing information with others, listening to and receiving information from all levels of the organisation.


For organisations to function effectively, information must be exchanged efficiently, meaning that the information received must have the same meaning as the information sent.

The primary purpose of communications in organisations is to achieve coordinated action, information and decision-making.


The communications process is made up of a number of elements or stages through which every form of communication must pass (Figure 6.1):

  • Sender: The entire process starts when the sender decides that he or she wants to send a message to another person. For example, the sender may want to inform his/her manager about a systems problem.
  • Encoding the message: Before a message can be sent, it must be encoded in a suitable language. This language or sign could be any of the following; a gesture or non-verbal communication, written word, spoken word, picture or illustration.
  • Medium: Once the sender has encoded the message the next decision is to choose which medium to use to transmit the message. Different types of medium include: email, memo, briefing, meeting, videoconference and telephone. The choice of medium will depend on a number of factors such as; is the message bad news, what is the speed of transmission of the message or a report.
  • Decoding process: The receiver must decode the message and understand it before acting on the message. The use of unfamiliar language will impact the understanding of the message.
  • Receiver: Finally once the receiver has decoded and understood the message, the receiver then becomes the sender in the process. The receiver then sends feedback to the original sender to indicate that the message has been received and understood. The receiver also acts on the contents of the message if a direct action is required.


Two important elements of the communications process are feedback and noise.

Feedback: It is importance that the sender of the message gets feedback from the recipient to indicate that the message has been received and understood correctly. Feedback enables corrective action to be taken if there is a breakdown in the communications process.

Noise: Is used to denote anything that inhibits the success of the communications process. Noise can refer to actual noise in the room or the reader’s state of mind. It is the job of the communicator to ensure that noise does not interfere with the successful communication of the message.

Methods of Communication

The primary methods of communication are written, oral and non-verbal.

Written Communication: This allows a permanent method of communication, for example memos, reports and e-mails.

Oral (verbal) Communication: This is the most prevalent form of organisational communication and also the most powerful because in addition to words it can contain other information conveyed by the speaker’s change of tone, volume and pitch.

Non-verbal Communication: This includes personal and environmental information such as body language, handshake, facial expression, eye movement or contact. Environmental factors include the layout or space. For example a large office may place more status on the inhabitant.



There are two forms of organisational communications:

  • Formal Communications
  • Informal Communications

Formal Communications

Formal communications are those that flow within the chain of command defined by the organisation. There are three distinct types of formal communications:

  • Downward Communications
  • Upward Communications
  • Horizontal Communications

Downward Communications

This is the most common form of communication in an organisation and usually involves messages and information from top management flowing down through the organisation.

The most common media used for downward communications are speeches, e-mail, published reports, newsletters and increasingly the company’s Intranet site. The topics covered in downward communications include:

  • The vision, goals and objectives of the organisation
  • Procedures and policies
  • Specific job instruction
  • Feedback on performance and attainment of objectives

The main problems associated with downward communications are that the message will not filter down to all levels and it can get misinterpreted through numerous reiterations.

Upward Communications

Upward communication is the process of encouraging employees to share feelings and ideas with managers and employees at a higher level in the organisation.

Upward communication is becoming increasingly important as employees are demanding and receiving more involvement in decision-making.

The following are some methods that can be used to establish and improve upward communications:

  • Formal grievance procedure
  • Opinion surveys
  • Open door policy
  • Informal meetings
  • Task forces
  • Team meetings

Horizontal Communications

Horizontal communication involves the lateral exchange of information among employees at the same level within an organisation, or between different departments in the organisation.

Horizontal communication falls into three main categories:

  • Intra-departmental Communication – Within a department
  • Inter-departmental Communication – Between departments
  • Manager/Supervisor Communication – Between a Manager and their Supervisor(s)

Poor horizontal communications can result in lack of coordination between departments and rivalry between departments. These factors will have a negative impact on organisation effectiveness.

Informal Communications

Informal communications can also exist within an organisation and they can have both negative and positive impacts on communication effectiveness. The main informal communication system is referred to as the grapevine.

Chester Bernard identified four functions of informal communications:

  • To communicate intangible facts, opinions, suggestions and suspicions.
  • To minimise excessive cliques within an organisation arising from too great a divergence of interests and views.
  • To promote self- discipline of the group.
  • To promote important personal influence in the organisation.

Some of the reasons for the development of informal communication systems are the lack of an effective formal communications system, or a lack of openness in the organisation.

Informal organisations can present management with formidable challenges. It can stall and slow down their plans, it can act as a covert third force. However it would be incorrect to presume this is always negative. In some instances the informal organisation may be presenting a picture of “lived experience” that is worthy of greater managerial attention.



Improving organisational communications depends on identifying barriers to effective communication, which may include the following:

  • Poorly defined Channels of Communications: The organisational structure may hinder good communications. Managers and employees may not be aware of the information needs of other sections of the organisation.
  • Organisational Culture: The culture of the organisation may not allow for sufficient opportunities for communication to take place. Meetings may be arranged infrequently and even then they are not conducive to free speech and openness.
  • Personality Clashes: Personality differences between individuals or rivalry between departments can stifle communications.
  • Inappropriate Choice of Medium or Presentation: Information can be either too detailed or too generalised or the information may not be expressed clearly. A medium such as written communication is more suitable for detailed communication while verbal communication in more appropriate when persuasion and clarification are necessary.
  • Frame of Reference: Depending on past experience, individuals may interpret communications differently. This is a common cause of breakdown in communications.
  • Jargon: Using technical language may make communication incomplete or incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with it.
  • Communication Overload or Underload: Too much or too little information being communicated, directly affects receiver comprehension. Too little generates a feeling of mistrust, while too much information may produce mental overload or stress.
  • Communicator Credibility: The level of credibility a receiver assigns to a sender will affect how the receiver will react to the ideas suggested by the sender.
  • Selective Listening: Individuals tend to selectively perceive information which reaffirms their beliefs and filter out conflicting information.
  • Withholding Information and Filtering: The sender may withhold or manipulate information for to create a more favourable appearance. The communication may become distorted and meaningless if information is omitted.



The following can enhance effective communications in an organisational context:

  • Effective Listening
  • Effective Writing
  • Effective Meetings.

Effective Listening 

For listening to be effective it needs to be active. Active listening is more than simply listening to what is being said, it is also confirming to the speaker that their points are being understood in the way that they were intended to be. In turn, they will be more open and participative in their work. Active listening skills can be verbal and non-verbal. Verbal listening skills include:

  • Summarising what the person is saying.
  • Clarifying that what was said is understood, such as facts, opinions etc.
  • Paraphrasing – repeating back to the speakers a little of what was said either in their own words or similar words.
  • Explaining – giving an interpretation of previous statements.
  • Open-ended questions to encourage further disclosure.
  • Encouraging – thanking the person for their contribution.
  • Silence – to encourage the speaker to continue.
  • Linking – linking various statements and comments.

Non-verbal listening skills are rarely used alone and work in conjunction with and enhance verbal skills. They include facial expression, eye contact, body language, gestures, personal space and timing. There are cultural variations in how non-verbal language is used and in the meaning attached to them.

Active listening skills are very valuable but there are a number of pitfalls, which should be avoided. These include over-analysing, parroting, over-expansion, omitting, exaggerating and rushing. It is also important that the person chooses the right environment for the meeting and avoids a judgmental attitude. If the listener is trying to find a solution, they may be concentrating on what they are going to say, and not on what is being said. Good listening skills are a very important part of management. To improve on their listening skills a person needs to be aware of their present level of skills in this area, recognise the areas that need improvement and then actively work on those areas.



With the wide spread use of e-mail and other forms of electronic communication, writing remains an important method of communication.  It is a particularly important skill for managers whose job will involve writing reports, memos, etc. The following points should bourn in mind when writing any document.

  • Keeping the words as simple as possible will make the document more understandable.
  • Avoid unnecessary formality but adapt your style to the purpose of the communication.
  • Be concise and specific, otherwise accuracy and clarity may be lost. Writing is covered in detail later in this chapter.

Effective Meetings

Meetings are an important means of sharing information and making decisions and those who chair them must ensure that people’s time and talent are used effectively. The following are some guidelines for effective meetings:

  • Make sure that the meeting is necessary and cannot be achieved by a memo or phone call.
  • Set out an agenda; including items to be covered and what is expected of participants.
  • Invite only those who need to attend.
  • Prepare for the meeting, including a strategy on how to stimulate discussion on areas you need the meeting to focus on. Reserve your own opinion until near the end to avoid unduly influencing others.
  • Give the meeting your undivided attention and avoid possible interruptions.
  • Encourage participants to contribute, but keep to the agenda and avoid discussions of unrelated topics.
  • Conclude the meeting by summarising the discussion, and confirm any action to be taken and by whom. As soon as possible after the meeting make out a set of minutes and distribute to participants.



The widespread use of Information Technology has introduced new methods of communication. These include the use of:


E-mail is becoming one of the most widespread means of communication within organisation. It is very fast and efficient and supports one-to-one and one-to-many communications. Another advantage is that there is a written record of the communication. Some points to bear in mind when using e-mail are:

  • Do not assume privacy, as the receiver can forward your message to another person without the knowledge or permission of the sender.
  • Keep message to the point but not overly short as this may annoy the recipients.
  • Respond to e-mails in a timely manner.


The following are some guidelines for creating effective emails:

  • Be sure to recognise the differences between business e-mail and personal e-mail.
  • The consequences of poor judgment in the use of e-mail can be quite serious in business.
  • Electronic documents have the same legal weight as printed documents.
  • Be sure to clarify if your company has an e-mail policy and follow it.
  • Be careful what you write: 25% of companies monitor internal e-mail; 50% of companies monitor incoming and outgoing e-mail.
  • Planning effective e-mail messages involves: o Sending only those messages that are essential o Paying attention to e-mail etiquette o Making sure every e-mail you send is necessary  o Using the “cc” function carefully o Being specific
    • Respecting the chain of command
  • When writing most e-mail messages, you don’t need to compose perfect works of literature, but you do need to be careful and sensitive to your audience’s needs.
  • Subject lines are one of the most important parts of e-mail messages; they help the reader decide whether or not to open the message.
    • Make sure your subject line is informative and compelling.
    • Do more than just describe or classify message content—build interest with key words, quotations, directions, or questions.
    • When exchanging multiple e-mails with someone on the same topic, modify the subject line to reflect the revised message content.
  • Keep your emotions under control: o Never allow yourself to send a highly emotional e-mail
    • Ask yourself if you would say this to your audience face-to-face and if you are happy with the idea of this message potentially being read by anybody in the organisation.
  • Like other messages, e-mail requires revision, production and proofing.
  • Use your e-mail system’s ability to include a signature.
  • Pause to verify what you’re doing before you click “Send.”


Videoconferencing is a live video (television) exchange between people in different locations. The main benefits of Videoconferencing are the time and costs saved by not having to travel to meetings. Videoconferencing is still quite expensive and this has tended to limit its use.


Teleconferencing is cheaper to set up and use than videoconferencing. Teleconferencing is used widely to enable groups of graphically dispersed people to communicate. It can be useful for briefing staff at short notice and also for project teams to monitor the progress of a project. It is limited in its use in group decision-making situations, unless the issues are clearly understood and there is unlikely to be conflicting views within the group.


Blogs, which represent the earliest form of social media, are special types of websites that usually display date stamped entries in reverse chronological order. They are the social media equivalent of personal web pages and can come in a multitude of different variations; from personal diaries describing the author’s life to summaries of all relevant information in one specific content area. Blogs are usually managed by one person only, but provide the possibility of interaction with others through the addition of comments. Due to their historical roots, text-based blogs are still by far the most common.

Social Networks

Social networks such as Facebook are being used to complement other communication channels such as the telephone and email. Social networks also provide the opportunity to interact and engage with customers and the wider community.

Many companies have Facebook pages to communicate new products and offers with the public. Social networks are a very cost effective way of communicating with customers and getting their feedback on products and services. Social networks have opened up another dimension of advertising to the wider community. Two of the most popular social networking service are Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Twitter can provide businesses a means of fast, free, up-to-date communication of products/services/offers with twitter users. Social networks and blogs are of great importance for communication in businesses involved in media such as newspapers and magazines.

LinkedIn is a business orientated social networking service that can be used by businesses to communicate with potential further employees.

Web Conferencing (Webinars)

Web conferencing services enable conferences to be shared with remote locations. The web conference utilises Internet technologies, to allow the sender to communicate in real-time with many receivers using computers. This is referred to as a multicast communication. The Web conference enable information in text, audio, graphics and video formats to shared over large geographic regions. Web conferencing can be utilised for meetings, presentations, lectures and training.

Web conferences are also referred to as Webinars (short for Web seminars). Webinars are generally interactive; that is as well as allowing the audience to receive information, they can also interact with the teacher/speaker to discuss and provide feedback.


Wikis are a type of Web site that allows users to edit Web pages or create new Web pages directly from the browser without any need use Web development tools or programming languages. Wikis can be utilised by organisations to create and store knowledge as they cost much less than formal knowledge management systems and they are more flexible and dynamic.           

 Construction of Effective Business Correspondence

Business Letters

The following is the most widely used format for business letters:

Writing Reports

Many different types of reports are used in business – some are formal and quite long, while others are short and informal. The main purpose of a report is to provide information that is ultimately used to aid in decision-making.

Some reports contain little more than the recordings of an event, providing some facts on the event and possible actions to be taken. Other more detailed reports contain comprehensive explanations of facts, with conclusions and possibly recommendations for actions.

The more detailed reports will require an amount of research, which may involve interviews, questionnaires, observations and investigation. The information in a report may be presented in written, tabular or graphical form.

A Guide to Writing Reports (Taylor, S. 2003) The main stages in writing a report are:

  • Defining a Purpose: The author should be clear about: o Why they are writing the report
    • What to include o What to leave out o Who the readers are
  • Investigating the Topic: This depends on the topic and purpose of the report. You may need to read, interview, experiment and observe.
  • Organising the report into sections: Reports can be set out in eight parts but not all parts are always necessary.
    • Title or title page: A short report will not need a titles page, only a title.
    • Contents list: This is normally only needed for long reports.
    • Abstract: This is only needed for formal reports such as scientific research. The abstract is a summary of the report that appears in library files and journals. It is usually between 150 to 300 words.
    • Introduction: The introduction should be brief and answer questions such as: What is the topic? What was the method used? What is the background? What were the sources?
    • Discussion: This is the main body of the report. It will generally be the longest part of the report containing all the details of the work organised under headings and sub headings.
    • Summary and conclusions: This section describes the purpose of the report, the conclusions and how they were reached. This section is sometimes placed before the discussion section
    • Recommendations: The section details what future actions are required to improve the situation.
    • Appendix: This contains material which readers only need if they are studying the report in depth.

Note: Writers often put the summary conclusions and recommendations together and circulate them as a separate document. This is often called an executive summary

  • Order of presentation: The following is the recommended order of presentation. However all the sections would not be required for every report, especially those shown in brackets

Long Report

  • Title or title page o Contents list o (Abstract) o Introduction o Discussion o Summary and conclusions o Recommendations o (Appendix)
  • (Bibliography): Long reports might include research and thus a bibliography or reference page may be required. Short Report o Title o Introduction o Discussion o Summary and conclusions o Recommendations o (Appendix)
  • Order of Writing: The order of writing doesn’t have to follow the order of presentation. The following approach is useful as each section helps to write the next:
    • Introduction o Discussion o Summary and conclusions o Recommendations o (Abstract) o Title or title page o Contents list  o (Appendix)
  • Numbering of sections and paragraphs: Sections and paragraphs should be numbered and labelled.
  • Planning the writing: Before writing a report you will normally have to collect a large volume of information. To save time and to produce a better organised report you should make a plan for each of the main sections of your report.
  • Revision: You should always critically read what you have written. You may have to change your structure and rewrite parts of the report so that it is clear and concise.


In their book “Excellence in Business Communication”, Thrill and Bovee propose a threestep process for writing messages:

The writing process may be viewed as three simple steps:

Step 1. Planning business messages

  • Analysing the situation: A successful message starts with a clear purpose that connects the sender’s needs with the audience’s needs. All business messages have both a general purpose (to inform, to persuade or to collaborate) and a specific purpose (such as placing an order). Develop an audience profile by identifying the primary audience, determining audience size and composition, evaluating the level of knowledge, and gauging the probable reaction.
  • Gathering information: For many kinds of business messages, you can informally gather information to satisfy your audience’s needs by:
  • Considering other viewpoints
  • Reading reports and other company documents
  • Talking with supervisors, colleagues or customers
  • Asking your audience for input Selecting the right medium: The choice of media include:
  • Oral – face-to-face conversation, speeches, presentations and meetings
  • Written – notes, letters, memos, reports and proposals
  • Visual – charts, graphs and diagrams
  • Electronic Media – includes telephone calls, teleconferencing, voice-mail messages and audio recordings such as compact discs and podcasts, e-mail, instant messages, blogs, websites, text messaging, electronic presentations, computer animation and video.
  • Organising the information: The four steps for organising messages are:
  • Define the main idea
  • Limit the scope of the message
  • Group the points in an outline
  • Choose a direct or an indirect approach, depending on anticipated audience reaction, message length and message type (routine, negative or persuasive).

Step 2. Writing business messages

  • Adapting to your audience:
    • Being sensitive to your audience’s needs
    • Building strong relationships with your audience
    • Controlling your style and tone
  • Composing your message:
    • Choosing strong words
    • Creating effective sentences
    • Craft coherent paragraphs Step 3. Complete business messages by:
  • Revising:

Reviewing content and organisation

Reviewing readability

Editing and rewriting to make the message concise and clear

  • Producing:

Designing your document to suit your purpose

Being careful with font selection, use of white space and so on

  • Proofreading:

Reviewing for typos

Looking for errors in spelling and mechanics Spotting alignment problems

Detecting poor print quality

  • Distributing:

Balancing cost, convenience, time, security and privacy


In this section we look at three different writing styles:

  • Writing routine informative messages
  • Writing persuasive messages
  • Writing negative messages

The Informative Style Message

For a typical employee, most day-to-day business communication concerns fairly routine matters. A request is routine or informative when it is part of the normal course of business and the audience is likely to comply. Because your readers will be interested or neutral, you can use the direct approach for most routine messages. The following approach is suggested by Bovee & Thill (2007):

Planning your message

Planning routine messages may take only a few moments.

  • Begin planning by analysing your situation to make sure that your purpose is clear and you know enough about your audience to craft a successful message.
  • Continue planning by gathering all information your audience needs to know so as to save time for yourself and your audience, and avoid the trouble writing of additional messages to fill the gaps.
  • Continue planning by selecting the medium most appropriate for your message and audience.
  • Finish planning by organising your information effectively: o Defining your main idea (usually well defined for routine business messages). o Limiting your scope.
    • Selecting a direct or indirect approach (usually direct for routine, positive messages).
    • Outlining your content.

Writing the Message

With some practice, you’ll be able to write most routine messages quickly. Be sensitive to your audience’s needs by being polite and emphasising the positive. Use a conversational tone, plain English and the active voice.

Complete the routine messages by revising, producing, proofreading and distributing. It is important to balance cost, convenience, time, security and privacy.

Type of Routine Messages:

Routine messages can be divided into two groups; routine requests and routine replies.


You are making a request whenever you ask for something such as information, action, products or adjustments.

Routine requests have three parts:

  • Opening: Where you clearly state your main request.
  • Body: Where you give details and justify your request.
  • Close: Where you request specific action.


When sending routine replies and positive messages, you have several goals:

  • To communicate the information or good news.
  • To answer all questions.
  • To provide all required details.
  • To leave your reader with a good impression of both you and your firm. Routine replies and positive messages usually have three parts:
  • They open with the main idea (the positive reply or the good news) stated clearly and concisely.
  • They provide all the relevant details in the middle.
  • They close cordially, perhaps highlighting a benefit to your reader.

Most routine and positive messages fall into six main categories:

  • Answers to requests for information and action.
  • Grants of claims and requests for adjustment.
  • Informative messages.
  • Good-news announcements.
  • Goodwill messages.

Some Guidelines when Writing Routine or Informative Messages:

  • When asking a series of questions in a request, the writer should (1) ask the most important questions first, (2) ask only relevant questions, and (3) deal with no more than one topic per question.
  • Explaining how responding to your request may benefit your audience, is one aspect of the “you” attitude. Doing so accommodates the reader’s need to understand why he or she should make your request a priority, and increases the likelihood that you will receive a desirable response.
  • It’s usually best to avoid an outright apology. However, you can’t avoid taking responsibility for a mistake that has been made. Word your response carefully, emphasising the good news about what you are doing to provide compensation and to improve circumstances. Be sure to balance your humility over the mistake with your responsible handling of the claim and your fairness in making the adjustment.

The Persuasive Style Message 

Persuasion is the attempt to influence the attitudes, beliefs, or actions of members of your audience. Persuasion is not about trickery or getting people to make choices that aren’t in their best interest; persuasion gives your audience a choice and helps them choose to agree with you.

Bovee & Thill, (2007) suggest that successful persuasive messages demand careful attention to all four tasks in the planning step:

  • Analysing your situation
  • Gathering information
  • Selecting the right medium
  • Organising your information


The goals of your persuasive business messages are to convince your readers that your request or idea is reasonable and that it will benefit your readers in some way.


When structuring a persuasive argument, you can use the AIDA plan:

Attention: Your opening does more than simply introduce your topic; it grabs audience attention and encourages them to hear more about your main idea.

Interest: Your explanation does more than present reasons; it stimulates the interest of your audience.

Desire: Your continued explanation does more than present benefits; it changes your audience’s attitude.

Action: Your close does more than end on a positive note; it emphasises reader benefits and motivates the reader to take specific action.

This is a suitable structure for persuasive messages because the main idea – what you want the audience to do is presented at the end, after all the reasons and attention-getting material is laid out. By the time the readers reach the action stage of the message, they are not only paying attention but are also more interested in the information and motivated to follow through by taking the proposed action.

General Guidelines

When writing persuasive requests for action, you want to:

  • Choose either a direct or an indirect approach (depending on whether your audience anticipates your request).
  • Begin with an attention-getting device (showing readers you know something of their concerns).
  • Give facts, explain benefits, and enhance your appeal in the interest and desire sections.
  • Gain credibility for you and your request.
  • Make your readers believe that helping you will help solve a significant problem.
  • Close with a request for some specific action.

Some Guidelines when Writing Persuasive Messages:

  • Unless your request is routine, opening your persuasive message with an immediate call to action will often lead the audience to say “no.” Most audiences are initially resistant to act, and unless you give yourself a chance to explain why they should comply, they will make up their minds before hearing all that you have to say.
  • If an emotional appeal is used to manipulate an audience’s decision, and especially if the communicator appeals to some negative emotion such as fear, that appeal must be considered unethical. Subtle appeals to an audience’s emotions that evoke positive feelings of comfort, happiness, safety, self-esteem and so on would usually be considered ethical.
  • The best way to deal with audience resistance to your persuasive message is to anticipate and address as many objections as you can in your initial message. If you wait until people raise the concern after reading your message, chances are they already will have gravitated towards a firm “no” before you have a chance to address their concerns.
  • In persuasive messages, an aggressive “hard sell” approach is likely to put audiences on guard and on the defensive, reducing their willingness to agree with you and/or to do what you ask of them.
  • You present both sides to show that you have thoroughly studied the alternatives. By second-guessing your audience’s concerns, you can provide compelling reasons in your persuasive message that show why other alternatives won’t work. If you don’t do this, your audience will focus on other possible alternatives instead of your proposed solution.

Until you can satisfy their concerns, they won’t accept your proposal.

  • Unlike routine requests, persuasive messages require you to motivate others to act, and they are not about ordinary, day-to-day matters. Because persuasive messages are supposed to convince or motivate readers, they often include more detail than routine requests. They also require more strategic planning to achieve credibility, to choose the right appeal, and to use semantics and other reinforcement tools effectively.

The Negative Style Message

When you send negative messages, you have five main goals:

  • To convey the bad news
  • To gain acceptance for the bad news
  • To maintain as much goodwill as possible with your audience
  • To maintain a good image for your organisation
  • To reduce or eliminate the need for future correspondence on the matter.

According to Bovee & Thill (2007), when developing negative messages there are two approaches:

The Direct Approach

  • Open with a clear statement of the bad news,
  • Provide reasons and additional information,
  • Close with a positive forward-looking statement that is helpful and friendly.

One advantage of using the direct approach to deliver the negative news at the beginning of a message is that doing so makes the message shorter. Another advantage is that the audience gets to the main idea in less time. The direct approach makes sense when the audience is known to prefer reading the negative news first and when readers are unlikely to react very negatively to the news.

The Indirect Approach

  • Open with a buffer – a neutral, non-controversial statement related to the point of the message,
  • Provide reasons and additional information,
  • Continue with a clear statement of the bad news,
  • Close with a positive forward-looking statement that is both helpful and friendly.


Some Guidelines when Writing Negative Messages

  • Some critics believe that buffers are unethical and see them as being manipulative and dishonest. However, buffers that are sincere are neither manipulative nor dishonest and are perfectly ethical.
  • When using an indirect approach to announce a negative decision, presenting your reasons before explaining the decision is a way to convince the audience that your decision is justified, fair and logical.
  • Three techniques for de-emphasising negative news are (1) minimising the space or time devoted to the negative news, (2) subordinating the negative news, and (3) embedding the negative news in the middle of a paragraph or in parentheses.
  • When you de-emphasise the negative news, your intentions are kind, not manipulative. You still present the facts and deliver the negative news. However, you are trying to get readers to focus on the positive, or you are helping them become more willing to understand the reasons for the negative news.
  • Suggesting an alternative to readers is often a good idea if the suggestion is genuinely useful. Offering constructive advice encourages readers to think of you in a positive way.
  • When giving a negative review to an employee, follow these five steps: (1) confront the problem right away, (2) plan your message, (3) convey the message in private, (4) focus on the problem without attacking the person, and (5) ask the employee to make a commitment to improve.
  • The last thing your audience will remember is the close of your message. A positive close can help create an upswing from a potentially damaging situation. No one likes negative news, and your upbeat close can overcome lingering feelings that could interfere in future business relationships.

The Principles of Effective Communications

  • Think carefully about your objective before communicating. Do you want to inform, persuade, advise or consult?
  • Choose the correct medium, or combination of media; speech, visual etc.
  • Organise your ideas and express them carefully.
  • Time the message to its best advantage.
  • Check for feedback.
  • As the receiver, give messages your full attention and respond in an appropriate way.



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