Diplomatic No Avoid Confrontations

When you need to say no but want to either retain the relationship or, at the very least, avoid alienating your readers, consider the Diplomatic No. By focusing on the process by which the decision to say no was derived, you avoid saying anything personal. Form letters and press releases are often written using the Diplomatic No organizational structure.

Form Letters

Sonya (see above) said that she talked to more than two dozen candidates during the hiring process. She decided to send a form letter to a dozen or so—those candidates she'd spoken to on the telephone but hadn't interviewed.

"I had nothing particularly against them but nothing nice to say either. I wanted to be respectful in telling them they weren't going to get the job. The Diplomatic No organizational structure served the purpose perfectly. I started with 'Dear Applicant' because I wanted the tone to be impersonal."


Dear Applicant:

In the course of filling the xyz position, we reviewed scores of applicants' credentials. The process was long, and one we took very seriously. Often candidates with impressive credentials are not suitable for one of several reasons, including a lack of relevant experience or inadequate job knowledge, for example.

Although I'm unable to offer you a job at this time, I want to thank you for taking the time to apply for the position.

Sincerely, My name here

"The thing I liked was that it wouldn't hurt them, even though it conveyed bad news," Sonya said.

Note that Sonya wrote nothing personal. The entire focus was on the process of selecting a candidate; no part of the letter mentioned anything individual or specific. While the unsuccessful applicants won't like getting the letter, neither will it sting.

Press Releases

Major corporations frequently use the Diplomatic No organizational structure when they need to announce bad news to the public. The strategy works whether the announcement is made via E-mail, a newsletter, a memo, or a press release.

A press release is an announcement of a newsworthy event issued to the media. To have the best chance of having your press release published, it needs to be more than relevant—it needs to be written concisely. The less revision a publication has to do, the more likely the release is to be published.

Many organizations use press releases to announce events, performances, mergers and acquisitions, promotions, and other positive business developments. They can also be used effectively to announce bad news. Jim, CEO of an auto parts manufacturer, used a press release to announce a downturn in sales, for example.

"I met with all employees in person, of course. But using a press release allowed us to control how the news was positioned to the public. I used the Diplomatic No organizational structure and it worked well. Don't get me wrong: Bad news is bad news, but it could have been much worse if our stockholders, vendors, and customers heard rumors before we'd made the announcement."

The introductory sentence in Jim's press release was in the third person and used the passive voice, usually a style to be avoided. But in this case it resulted in a rational, calm tone that was necessary to avoid rumors. It began:

ABC corporation announced today that third-quarter sales were projected to be 8 percent lower than previously expected. Jim (last name here), CEO, said, "Most companies involved in the automobile industry are experiencing a downturn. As a parts manufacturer, we're at the front of the curve. We're looking forward to an economic upswing, perhaps as early as the fourth quarter, and in the meantime, we're optimistic about our plans for global expansion.

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