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How to Write Sensitive Letters

Nine Tips for Writing Letters Concerning Sensitive Matters

Discussing delicate or difficult matters can be unpleasant and stressful. Sometimes talking with the person face-to-face is the best course of action. Depending on the situation, particularly those that require documentation or are conflictual or embarrassing, sending a letter might be a better option. The following tips will help you write difficult letters with clarity and sensitivity.

  1. Don’t put off sending the letter. Delivering bad news or discussing sensitive matters is uncomfortable, but it feels good (a relief) to say what needs to be said. And it will allow you to move to the next step.

  1. Establish goodwill. Begin the letter with a polite mention of something that you and the recipient agree on or have in common.

  1. Share your feelings. If you feel uncomfortable about the situation, then state this in the letter. This will demonstrate your concern about the situation and how it affects both parties.

  1. Be clear, accurate, and concise. Don’t use big words, indirect phrases, or “overly nice” wording because they could annoy the recipient. Just state the facts and other details in direct and easy to understand language.

  1. Show that you understand the recipient’s position. Even if your position is accurate, based on the law, or rooted in solid thinking, acknowledge the other person’s point of view. This will show that you respect their position and are only concerned about effectively addressing the situation.

  1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you played a part in creating the situation, then admit it. This will send the message that you are fair-minded, not interested in blaming, and focused on resolving the matter. It may also motivate the recipient to admit to their role in creating the situation.

  1. Negotiate with the recipient when feasible. Ask yourself if you are willing to accept less than what you want. For example, if a client owns you $15,000, would you be willing to accept $13,000 to resolve the matter and move on?

  1. Be very clear about the problem and solution you expect. A lack of clarity about the issue might confuse the recipient or give them the wrong impression. Either of these problems will make it more difficult to get the desired result.

  1. Close your letter on a positive note. Express goodwill, convey your confidence in the ability to find a solution, or explain how an acceptable solution will benefit both parties.

Letters about delicate or troubling matters are not easy to write because many of us do not want to cause conflict, hurt someone, or risk hurting ourselves. Sometimes, however, we cannot avoid writing this kind of letter. The steps listed above can help us create factual letters that show understanding, express good intentions, and successfully address the situation.



Rosalie Maggio and Jack Griffin. The Big Book of How to Say It, New York: Prentice Hall, 2001 & 1998.

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

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