Why Not to Restate Negative Messages


The world is full of negativity. People only have to turn on a news report or read the headlines of a newspaper to see the evidence of this statement. Ironically, it is negative messages that make such media popular. However, no one seems to enjoy being the recipient of negative news about themselves. The sounds of these messages immediately capture the attention of human self-esteems, and potentially engage unwelcome emotions. Bippus and Young (2005) demonstrate this saying, “expressions of negative emotions may be seen as less polite if they attribute the cause of a negative emotion to the receiver of the message, and more polite if they attribute the cause of a positive emotion to the recipient” (p. 30). It is an unavoidable fact that negative message must be delivered. Because they are so emotionally received they do not need to be repeated.


Don’t Say It Twice

Often when delivering bad news such as telling someone that they did not get a job, there is the temptation to further express empathy by apologizing a second time. Penrose, Rasberry, and Myers (2008) advise to, “resist the desire to toss in a final reference to the bad news such as ‘Again, know that we’re as sorry about this as you are.’ Once you deliver the negative…do not reconstruct it” (p. 150). There are several good reasons for such advice.


Social Expectation

First, to apologize is to imply the acceptance of blame. However, rejecting a person for a job may be a decision that is in the best interest of a company, and a reason about which not to be “sorry”. Bennett and Dewberry clarify the purpose of apologizes in saying, “the social function of apologies can more appropriately be seen…as connected with the more general purpose of maintaining the smooth flow of interaction, which in turn sustains the identity claims of both (or all) interactants” (study 2). In essence, Bennett and Dewberry are saying that often an apology is merely a social expectation associated with negative circumstances. If the bearer of bad news reemphasizes their regrets, they may worsen the feelings of loss by the recipient.



Secondly, in most cases of business, the company may still desire to keep a relationship of goodwill between themselves and the recipient. For example, if they are rejecting a job applicant they may still wish for them to reapply in the future. Salerno (1988) says, “If the purpose of our communication is to refuse a request and to retain our reader’s goodwill, then we must obtain a sense of that person as a unique individual” (p. 49). “We’re sorry” is all too generic of a term to make a people to feel understood in their unique situations. Therefore, it is best to write a clear and concise letter that expresses the negative message, and then ends with a goodwill closing that expresses since of hope for future relations.



It is inevitable that bad news will arise. People will have to communicate this news and others will have to receive it. In so doing negative messages often invoke negative emotions that are linked to self-esteem. Therefore, once these messages are delivered they should not be repeated, but rather followed by a goodwill ending that creates hopeful future relations.



Bennett, M., & Dewberry, C. (1994, March). “I’ve said I’m sorry, haven’t I?” A study of the identity implications and constraints that apologies create for their recipients. Current Psychology, 13(1), 10-20. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from E-Journals database.

Bippus, A., & Young, S. (2005, February). Owning Your Emotions: Reactions to Expressions of Self- versus Other-Attributed Positive and Negative Emotions. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 33(1), 26-45. Retrieved April 8, 2009, doi:10.1080/0090988042000318503

Penrose, J. M., Rasberry, R. W., & Myers, R. J. (2008). Business communication for managers: An advanced approach. In J. M. Penrose, R. W. Rasberry, R. J. Myers, & R. W. Rasberry, Liberty MBA effective executive communication (2nd ed.). United States: Thompson.

Salerno, D. (1988). An Interpersonal Approach to Writing Negative Messages. Journal of Business Communication, 25(1), 41-51. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.