Writing the Negative Letter

Published 29 Sep 2017

Vice President – Information Technology
SM Land, Inc.
10/F, SM OneE-com Center
Harbor Drive, Mall of Asia Complex

Dear Ms. Ellasos:

First of all, allow me to acknowledge the reliability of the IT Department in troubleshooting the numerous PC-related problems of staff members in our division during the past year. We appreciate your competent technical support in addressing numerous problems encountered during the last fiscal year, thereby speeding up work processes.

However , we noticed that lately, your team members seem to always be unavailable when technical glitches require urgent staff support. We all know that the IT Department has undergone a major personnel reorganization in recent months, and the new hires have recently been beset with numerous inter-departmental requests. An entire quarter has passed by, though, and despite numerous requests for technical support, our division has not been give the proper attention by the IT Group.

This is also to call your attention to another matter. We requested for a notebook computer from your department six months ago but until now, it has not yet been handed over to us. The request form for said equipment was forwarded to your office exactly six months ago.


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As this notebook computer will enable the undersigned to respond to more correspondences and create presentations even while on field work, it is expected to serve as an invaluable and more updated tool than the regular desktop computer which is currently installed. Moreover, the notebook computer will contribute to greater efficiency. The delay in the provision of this unit, though, has created inconvenience. May we obtain feedback on when the notebook computer may be furnished to our division head?

The other priority matter we are requesting you to address is to kindly assign a technical staff to handle the troubleshooting of malfunctioning computers being used by our key staff.

We shall appreciate your response and action on the abovementioned concerns at the soonest possible time.



In writing negative business messages, extra care should be given to the manner in which the key messages are conveyed. Appropriate language should be used, and a positive statement and tone must be used, even if it is a negative correspondence. “Researchers have found businesspeople respond better to positive language and are more likely to act on a positively worded request than one that uses negative words” (Campanizzi, 2005, p. 46). It is both a strategy and an act of goodwill then.

What is also important is that the reader must sense a sincerity on the part of the letter-writer, because even the most positive letter that heaps praises will be for naught if there is uncalled for artifice. In the example of a negative letter included in this paper, for example, the helpfulness of the IT Department is acknowledged first, before the problems and specific requests were made. In many instances, the most seasoned letter-writers have the following piece of advice for correspondences intended for key decision-makers in the workplace:

“If you use a positive tone, you have a lower probability of alienating or offending your reader” (Campanizzi, 2005, p. 46). In an age when workers and even key executives are faced with tons of work and are multi-tasking, nicely worded requests which are also conveyed in a clear and straightforward manner are much appreciated and may easily generate the desired response.

A common approach employed in business letter writing is to use a buffer, which is “a neutral or positive statement that allows you to bury the negative message… (and) put the reader in a good frame of mind… and provide a natural transition to the body of the letter” (“Negative Messages,” 2006). What the letter-writer must also not overlook is that even if it is precisely the intent to bury the negative message, the letter per se should not be misunderstood. The purpose and specific requests being conveyed must be made clear. “Business writing is about getting a message across. Always strive to do so without insulting, confusing, or annoying your audience” (Starkey, 2003, p. 50). There are at least three important things that writers of negative correspondences, particularly for workplaces, must remember. These are clarity, goodwill, and respect for the recipient. By wording their letters in a clear and succinct manner, the writer or the person making the request saves precious time and will not have to write a follow-up letter.

On the other hand, the importance of maintaining goodwill cannot be emphasized enough. It can serve both a short-term purpose like addressing the immediate request, and a long-term goal like cultivating a good professional relationship. “Maintaining goodwill in your writing encourages the reader to maintain the business or professional relationship. You will not achieve your purpose if you alienate or confuse your reader” (Campanizzi, 2005, p. 46). By also acknowledging efforts that have been expended, and citing this in the letter, you are communicating how much you value the assistance that has been provided, and which you expect to continue being provided, by the letter-recipient.

A few other important tips in writing negative messages like memos and complaint letters to colleagues, suppliers, business partners or even higher-ups is to organize the key well. Do not assume that the reader will read between the lines to and recall any previous requests or circumstances related to the concerns being raised. The task of providing the details lies in the letter-sender. With complete details, the faster the situation or problem can be attended to. The letter-writer must clearly describe the problem, tell how it happened, describe the options for fixing it, recommend a solution and ask for action (“Negative Messages,” 2006). The proposed solutions, of course, must be workable. It will be useless and a waste of the reader’s time if a solution requiring huge capital investment is suggested despite the knowledge that the organization is doing all it can to cut costs. Finally, phrasing the letter in such a way that it allows the recipient to consider the alternative presented or try other ways to resolve the problem reestablishes a sense of psychological freedom (“Negative Messages,” 2006), which can defuse the tension that usually comes with a negative letter.


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