Tag Archives: Business Communication: Process and Product

Bad-News Assignment

Delivering bad news has five goals: (a) Explaining clearly and completely (b) Projecting a professional image (c) Conveying empathy as well as sensitivity (d) Being fair and (e) Maintaining friendly relations.

This assignment will allow you to put the indirect vs. direct strategy to delivering bad news to the test. You will select one of the two scenarios below, and write both an indirect and direct bad-news letter using the principles outlined in the textbook. You will then show both letters to three different people asking them which approach they believe is most effective and why. Next write a 3-5-page paper relating your findings and finally your assessment. At least two of your three people should be working professionals. One person can be a friend or family member.

This task will give you practice with formulating bad-news messages and assessing people’s reactions to indirect vs. direct strategies. Choose either scenario and complete the required tasks. The assignment is worth 75 points (15 points for each letter (inductive and deductive), 10 points each for feedback (three people) and 15 points for your summary.

Scenario #1 – Rising Costs Hit Bakery Deliveries

As the owner of La Boulangerie Bakery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you have a devoted clientele savoring your delicacies. Your salty caramel cupcakes offer an irresistible salty-sweet flavor combination using fleur de sel crystals hand harvested from the pristine seas off Brittany, France. These salt granules complement the sweet buttery caramel that flavors both the cake and frosting. Although your cupcakes are a trendy hit, you also feature delicious cakes, squares, cookies, and breads. Your bakery has a medium-sized storefront; however, most of your business comes from supplying local restaurants and coffee shops with your tantalizing treats. You own two trucks that make deliveries to customers throughout the Baton Rouge metropolitan area.

Although LaBoulangerie is financially successful, rising costs have severely undercut your profits over the past few months. You know that you are not the only business owner dealing with rising prices. Many of your suppliers have raised their prices over the past year. Specifically, the higher price of wheat and sugar has resulted in a drastic increase in your production costs. Previously, you did not charge for deliveries made to your wholesale clients. However, you now feel that you have no choice but to add a delivery charge for each order to cover your increased costs and the rising price of gas.

Your Task:

  • As the owner of La Boulangerie Bakery, write a bad-news (indirect) letter to your wholesale clients in which you announce a $20 charge per delivery. Try to think of a special offer to soften the blow. Address the first letter to Mr. Emil Broussard, Café Broussard, 2013 West Lee Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70820.
  • In contrast, write a direct style letter to your wholesale clients
  • Choose three people and show them both letters. Ask them which letter they feel is most effective, and why.
  • Summarize, assess, and report your findings.

Source: Guffey-Loewy, Essentials of Business Communication, 10e (2016, Cengage Learning).

Scenario #2 – Home Depot Delivers, But it’s Bad News

On September 8, 2014, Home Depot experienced a widespread security breach in its payment data systems, which affected customers using payment cards at U.S. and Canadian stores. The malware used in the breach was eliminated on September 18 when Home Depot completed a major payment security update that provided enhanced encryption of payment data at the point of sale in retail stores. This enhanced encryption offers significant new protection for customers.

Home Depot does not believe that either debit card personal identification numbers (PINs) or checks were compromised. Further, no evidence suggests that stores in Mexico or on-line shoppers at HomeDepot.com were affected.

Home Depot will be offering affected customers free identify protection services for one year to those customers who used payment cards at a U.S. or Canadian Hope Depot store between April 1 through September 19, 2014. A hotline was set up to answer customer questions and address customer concerns: 1-800-HOMEDEPOT

Your Task:

  • As the public relations manager, you have been given the responsibility of customer communication on this issue. Determine the communication channel (letter or e-mail) you will use and write both an indirect and direct letter/e-mail to customers in which you communicate the situation.
  • In contrast, write a direct style letter to your wholesale clients
  • Choose three people and show them both letters/e-mails. Ask them which message they believe is most effective, and why.
  • Summarize, assess, and report your findings.

Source: Guffey-Loewy, Business Communication: Process & Product, 8e, 2015

Is Sensitivity Training Insensitive?

shutterstock_127436720Although it seems counterintuitive, organizations seeking to teach “cultural sensitivity” are being insensitive, according to Susana Rinderle, a consultant specializing in diversity and a blogger for Diversity Executive. Why? Rinderle suggests three reasons cultural sensitivity training doesn’t work.

  1. Teaching cultural sensitivity sets up a tacit “us” “them” situation and is patronizing.

Teaching cultural sensitivity can have negative implications because underlying the approach is the unspoken notion that white people need to be more sensitive to people of color. This reinforces a power imbalance. In other words, if “I” need to be more sensitive to “you” to fix a problem, then “you” need to be handled with kid gloves because “you” are fragile. That’s downright patronizing, Rinderle says. People of color don’t want extra compassion—they want an equal playing field and an inclusive culture.

  1. Cultural sensitivity training doesn’t build new skills.

 Participants in cultural sensitivity training sessions are usually provided with general information that frequently reinforces cultural or racial stereotypes. Then they return to the workplace charged with being “more sensitive.” Instead, they will likely walk on eggshells, which inhibits developing real relationships and effective communication. Unless workers are provided with specific behaviors illustrating how sensitive behavior looks and feels, the training participants have not learned about intercultural effectiveness, which entails communicating across human differences in whatever form they take.

  1. Cultural sensitivity training rarely contains clear goals that target the root problem.

Training programs that are set up without clear outcomes are doomed to fail, and most organizations that grasp at cultural sensitivity training as a way to fix an unnamed issue do just that. Training should be tied to organizational values. Unless training addresses a specific problem and has a clearly stated desired result, it is a waste of resources, Rinderle says.

The desire for cultural sensitivity stems from good intentions, but unless the training is approached the right way, it may just make things worse.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think any group—people of color, different religions, LBGTQ, the homeless—may not appreciate being the topics of cultural sensitivity training?
  1. How can we show sensitivity to those who are different from us?
  1. How might an “us” and “them” scenario lead to poor relationships?


What do you think about teaching cultural sensitivity? Post your response!

Source: Rinderle, S. (2014, Aug. 6). Why cultural sensitivity is ineffective and insensitive. Retrieved from http://www.talentmanagement.com/blogs