Bridges Unburned


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

October 8, 2020 

Bridges Unburned

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”

— Hermann Hesse

Business relationships sometimes run their course, but that doesn’t mean they need to burn. 

When writing to break ties with a business partner, you should express the news clearly and politely. The following strategies will help you end business connections on good or neutral terms.

1. Follow the BEBE Strategy

The BEBE pattern softens the blow of bad news while also communicating your decision in a clear and efficient manner.


Rather than bluntly stating the news, begin with a buffer statement. A buffer cushions the bad news by connecting with the reader in a positive way. You might thank the reader for past business, express understanding, or pay a compliment.

Thank you for your warehouse support these last three years.

Follow the buffer with a clear and honest explanation of the situation, offering context for the decision.

A sharp increase in inventory and supplier-line changes have complicated our warehousing situation. These factors have led us to shift resources toward warehouse robotics and analytics.

Then break the bad news in plain language. Don’t leave the reader feeling unsure of your decision.

Due to changes in warehousing priorities, Rankin Manufacturing has decided not to renew its contract with Broadband Logistics.

Finally, politely exit, perhaps looking toward the future.

Rankin thanks you for your business these last three years and wishes you all the best.

2. Focus on Business, Not Personalities

When expressing the bad news, avoid personal pronouns, which can come across as accusatory. Instead, focus on the business context of the decision. (You can, however, use personal pronouns for compliments and other affirmative statements.)

Original: We are severing our relationship with you due to your outdated software and your customer-service manager.

Revised: Due to changes in warehouse priorities, Rankin Manufacturing has decided not to renew its contract with Broadband Logistics.

Note: While the active voice is preferable for most writing situations, the passive voice may work better for delivering bad news because it focuses on the message rather than the sender.

3. Keep the Message “Cool”

Even if the relationship has reached a boiling point, keep your emotions in check. Write with a calm state of mind, which you’ll need to clearly think through the issue. Avoid inflammatory words like lousy or stupid or worthless, which only ignite trouble. Expressing strong emotion in writing will make the situation worse and may spoil chances for future business.

4. End with the Future in Mind

Do you want to keep open the possibility for future partnerships? Do you wish to cut off the relationship completely? Craft your ending with your future goals in mind. And don’t forget your complimentary closing—you can never go wrong with “Sincerely.”


Play the Editor!

Rewrite the following terse termination letter. Focus on improving the tone and organization, using the strategies from above as needed. Scroll down to compare your revision to our recommendation.  

Mr. Andrews: 

As of October 17, our partnership is over. You will find a termination notice enclosed with this letter. Sign it and return it to us.  

The reasons for this termination are quite simple: You stopped shipping our orders on time. You damaged our packages. You failed to deliver some orders altogether. Your gross negligence has led to delays and lost business. 

The breaking point occurred after we notified you of our concerns in a letter on September 14. Clearly, you ignored it, as shortly thereafter order #23413 didn’t arrive to the Sacramento School District building until October 3, four days late. Guess what, our presentation at the district was on September 29! Because of you, we lost a valuable client! 

If for whatever reason you can’t figure out why you have violated the terms in our contract, check out section 2.4. It’s all right there—you breached the contract! 

Layered Tech is officially done with Into Deliveries.

Good day,

Joey Grazziano
Layered Tech   


Get More Support

Refer to your Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips to organize your writing to fit your communication situation.


Editor’s Recommendation

Dear Mr. Andrews:

In the past, we appreciated the speed and reliability of your shipping services. We knew our products would arrive to clients on schedule and in good condition. 

However, in the last three months, late, missing, and damaged shipments have frustrated customers and lost business. See the letter dated September 14 for specifics. After that letter, order #23413 was supposed to arrive at the Sacramento School District building for a presentation on September 29. It didn’t arrive until October 3. This delay caused a significant financial hit to our organization.

Due to these concerns, Layered Tech is terminating its contract with Into Deliveries, effective October 17. Enclosed is a copy of the termination. Please sign it and return it to us. If you have questions about our ability to authorize the termination, please review section 2.4 of the contract for details.

We thank you for your past services and wish you well moving forward. 


Joey Grazziano
Layered Tech