What do native speakers do (and what do many non-native speakers NOT do) when it comes to giving bad news?
They frame it.
They put their message in a frame.
They package their message in a way to get the most out of that message and increase communication with their counterparts.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you asked someone to build a website for you.
You get a mail from them and it says this:
‘We have problems with the website.’
Is this functional? Yes, you get the point.
But is it professional? Not really.
If I got this mail I would feel like I had asked the wrong person for the job.
Why are they not handling this? When will it be fixed?
If you state your message in this way, you are kind of expressing that the problems will never go away. ‘We have problems’ uses the present simple tense, which is used for things we don’t expect to end or change.
Let me show you how to raise the bar on this one and go from functional to professional.
‘I’m afraid we are currently experiencing some technical issues with the website.’
Wow. What a difference.
I have used 4 different framing approaches in that 1 sentence to change the communication game. I’ll break it down for you:
- I started with ‘I’m afraid’ to let you know bad news is coming. (You can also use ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Unfortunately’ for this as well.)
- I used ‘currently’ as a temporary time frame, to show you the negative activity is only for now and will not continue.
- I chose the ‘ing’ form of the verb to reinforce this point – it’s only for now and it will go away. We are working on it as we speak!
- I changed ‘problems’ to ‘some technical issues’. I have specified the problem (not only by the amount but also by the type!), which makes it smaller and the problems have now become issues. This is less negative language, but still clear.
I know for many of you this seems totally exaggerated. Why not give it to them straight?
However, do keep in mind that English has different ways of packaging our messages. Bad news is often framed and packaged this way to minimize the issue and give your clients a more positive feeling that you are on it (like a bonnet!) and that you are capable of solving this issue.
I hope this helps the next time you have bad news to share!
(Here is me in half a frame!)