Writing Indirect Messages

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Writing Indirect Messages
This chapter presents writing approaches for two different message categories, when transmitting strong negative information and persuading someone to act, both of which usually use an indirect organization. There is no resistance to overcome in direct messages but in the above two types of messages we are likely to encounter resistance. The difficulty of writing a negative message stems from its bipolar objectives: (1) to transmit the bad news clearly and (2) to maintain the reader’s goodwill. To accomplish either objective by itself is fairly easy; to accomplish both takes skill. Writing indirect messages entails understanding the rationale behind the indirect approach. NEGATIVE MESSAGES

The pattern for transmitting negative messages has four steps: (1) a delaying opening, (2) the reasons for the upcoming bad news, (3) the bad news itself, and (4) a positive ending. Opening sentences and paragraph carry high impact, and so does the ending of a message. Using the principle of place emphasis, bad news most often appears in the middle of the message to diminish its impact. While the reader will not be happy hearing the bad news, the reader may at least understand the writer’s position if the information appears in such a way that the recipient reads all the message and if the reasons are believable, realistic and logical. THE DELAYING OPENING

The purpose of delaying the opening is to present the general topic without hinting about the upcoming negative news. If you have ever read an opening that you recognized as a delaying tactic, then you have read an ineffective opening. For example, this opening is weak because it leaks the upcoming bad news: “Over the last year you’ve met most of the essential deadlines.” Other characteristics of the weak opening are those that start too far from the general subject and those that have too positive tone. You might find the personal references a positive way to get in to the mood of the topic. At least the opening does not give away the upcoming bad news or start too far from the subject. An opening that is too positive forces an awkward transition to the rapidly approaching bad news. Writing an effective delaying opening is often the most difficult of the four steps in the negative message formula. A major reason for delaying openings to be so difficult to write is that they often appear manipulative. However, if the reader does not recognize your manipulation, you probably will achieve your goal. THE REASONS

Probably the most crucial step in the negative formula is the second, which establishes the reasons for the upcoming bad news. In preparing your reasons, empathize with your reader- the reasons should be logical to the reader and not just to you. If possible and appropriate, each reason should build on preceding reasons. This step also should not leak bad news, even though that news is the next step. THE BAD NEWS

While the delaying opening and the development of the reasons may take from several sentences to a paragraph each, this third step can be quite short, sometimes taking only a part of a sentence. Avoid putting bad news in a separate paragraph. A stand-alone paragraph is undesirable because it receives too much emphasis. Too blunt a negative message can destroy effectively prepared earlier steps. Sometimes you can leave the interpretation of the bad news to the reader by establishing what you are doing as opposed to not doing. For example, stating that you are awarding a bid to another firm tells the reader that he or she did not receive it. Here in the third step of a negative message the active voice may be too forceful, the passive voice may be softer. Seek an impersonal style by avoiding people’s names and personal pronouns. Be especially cautious of first names, I, and you. Once you deliver the negative message, leave it. Do not dwell on it. Change the subject to something more positive, such as the topic of...
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