Communicating effectively with employees is one of the challenges of being a manager. Unlike a personal conversation, in which the message can be tailored to the person receiving it, when you speak to employees as a whole, you must speak in a style that is appropriate for everyone. This can be particularly difficult when writing a negative memo -- one that is critical or that delivers bad news. Penning such a missive requires the manager to be direct, but also tactful. The goal should be to encourage your employees to change their actions without engendering bad feelings.
Deliver the bad news first. When writing a negative memo, it is generally best to get to the bad news right away. Including a significant amount of lead-up to the message has several drawbacks: first, it can make it sound like you're stalling; second, some employees might stop reading before getting to the memo's point; and third, if the message has been anticipated, many employees will skip the introduction anyway. The tone of this section should be straightforward, and the facts laid out clearly. Try to avoid anger or excessive negativity.
Offer encouragement. After you've laid out the bad news, shift the tone and focus of your memo so that it's slightly more optimistic. If your letter has been critical, offer words of praise and encouragement. If you've delivered unpleasant news, emphasize the positive. The goal of your job as a manager is to lead, a task that is never more vital than in times of hardship.
Present a solution. One of the dilemmas that employees often face when receiving a negative memo is not knowing what action their supervisor wants them to take now. In the third and last part of the letter, outline a clear course of action that employees can take to improve the situation. This instruction should provide clear steps for employees and should be delivered in an optimistic tone.
Read it out loud. Before sending the memo, you should look it over and then read it out loud. Read it out loud first to yourself and then to at least one other person who can provide feedback. Listen carefully to your own word choices and try to hear any language that might be misinterpreted. After you've made these corrections, the letter should be proofread for grammar, punctuation and spelling -- to show your employees that you wrote the letter with care.
- "Managing for Dummies"; Bob Nelson, Peter Economy; 2010
- Inc.: How to Communicate With Employees
Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.