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Even when all of the stakeholders in a project have the best intentions, there

are times when things do not go as planned and you must write a message that

might disappoint or irritate your client. You might need to state that the cost

for making an adjustment is your client’s responsibility. Or you might need to

refuse a request he has made. Then there are the instances when you must

devote your energies to fee collections in a series of what we euphemistically

call “reminders.”

At these times, there is the potential for tempers to flare and for your ability

to communicate in a business-like manner to be compromised. It’s important to

back off for a moment or two and think about what you need to say to your

client and how you should say it. Timeouts are particularly important to observe

when you are conducting business by e-mail and voice mail, which are temptingly

easy to send. This is how instant gratification leads to eternal mortification.

Vow never to send an angry e-mail or voice mail to a client. An e-mail message

can be forwarded, printed out, and filed, and a voice mail message can be forwarded

and replayed. Who wants that on record? No matter what delivery method you choose, remember that as a professional

you have three goals to achieve when formulating your communication.

• Deliver the negative message to your client as soon as possible. • Say it clearly so that your message will not be misunderstood. • Keep open the possibility for future business dealings (if you decide you want them).


Depending on the circumstances and what you have observed of your client’s temperament,

you can choose to write (or say) your message using the following strategies

for organization, voice, and focus. At one end of the spectrum is the high impact

message—direct and to the point, which works well for clients who are experienced

and prefer their communications to be short and quick. At the other end is a kinder,

gentler message—indirect in pattern and passive in voice, which is easier to accept

for those clients who are less experienced or who respond well to handling.


Earlier in this book when we discussed the correct way to organize a business

The message, we emphasized the importance of getting to the point immediately,

which is the first rule of the direct organization. Writing your main point first and

following with reasons and support is the rule for the majority of your business

e-mails, memos, and letters, but it is not the best way to deliver the messages we

are talking about in this section.

Writing messages that are likely to disappoint or displease your client calls

for some finessing. That is why we recommend that you learn to use an indirect

strategy for organizing your messages. Indirect organization helps your reader to

follow, understand, and accept the message and helps you to maintain as much

goodwill as possible. Indirect messages are arranged in the following sequence:

1. Introduction—state the subject and establish a neutral (professional) tone 2.Reason(s)—prepare the reader by reviewing the facts that led logically to the refusal 3. Refusal—state your refusal based on the facts once and without apology 4.Alternative—when possible, offer a compromise or alternative solution 5. Goodwill closing—end with a positive statement

You will find specific applications throughout this chapter.