This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I was leading a workshop last week and we got to talking about how to deliver rejection messages: you weren’t chosen, your recommendation wasn’t accepted, you aren’t getting the special dispensation you asked for. These are difficult messages to both send and receive. How you approach them speaks volumes about you.

The conversation reminded me of a Real Rant I wrote earlier this year about a rejection letter I had received from a committee for one of those mega-conferences, letting me know my speaker proposal had not been accepted. The letter was unbelievably polite. And therefore so very painful to read.

I knew from the first sentence that I hadn’t been chosen, although the actual “you weren’t chosen” message didn’t come until waaaaay down the page.

Here’s what the well-meaning conference committee wrote:

Dear Andrea: Thank you for submitting a presentation proposal for the XYZ Annual Conference being held <date> in City, State.

Each proposal was given careful and deliberate consideration …

It went on for many sentences before they said what I had figured out as soon as I started reading.

Here’s how I wished they had opened my rejection letter:

Dear Andrea: I wish I had better news. I’m sorry to say your proposal for ABC Topic was not selected this year for the XYZ Annual Conference being held <date> in City, State.

There’s more to it (both the letter, and my re-write), which you can read about here.

The key lesson: Rip off the Band-Aid. Do it with compassion, for sure. Just please do it. We all have a tendency to take far too long to say what needs to be said, and then say it overly politely, and formally, when a little humanity would do a world of good.

Good intentions don’t automatically make for good trust-building. Good risk-taking pretty much always does.


Make It Real

This week, aim to be more direct when you have to deliver bad news. Find a way to bring your humanity into the mix—whether that’s compassion, vulnerability, humor … or all of the above.

Learn More


Learn more about how being bold builds intimacy, or brush up on the power of caveats in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.


P.S. We’ve published 70 tips since June 2014. You can review the archive any time.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).