When you are about to get good and bad news, what is your preference — good or bad news first?
As you know many situations in life involves a double-edged sword and carries both good news and bad news. In “Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First? The Nature and Consequences of News Order Preferences,” a paper that appears online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Psychologists Angela M. Legg and Kate Sweeny wrote that the process of giving or getting bad news is difficult for most people, particularly when news-givers feel unsure about how to proceed with the conversation. Their study suggests the decision of whether to receive or give good or bad news depends on whether you’re the giver or the receiver of the news, and if the information needs to be used to modify behavior.
News givers, between 65 and 70 percent of them, chose to give good news first, then the bad news. Also, giving good news first, then bad can also be a useful strategy if the goal is to get someone to change a behavior. For example, if you are giving feedback to an employee needing to become more proficient at a task and they must take action to do so. “The customers love your pleasant personality when greeting them. However, your speed at locating and retrieving their order must improve.” The employee doesn’t feel good about the news but may do something about it.
“So, there’s good news and bad news.” An opening like that will send a chill through your veins, no matter what the topic. So it’s no surprise that, if you are on the receiving end, experiments showed that an overwhelming majority, an overwhelming 78 percent, wanted the bad news first. Most of us would rather get the bad news over with especially when there is good news to follow. If news-givers can put themselves in the recipient’s shoes, or if they’re pushed to consider how to make the recipient feel better, then they might be willing to give news like recipients want them to.
Just as doctors must give good and bad health news to patients and teachers must give good and bad academic news to students, so must employers and coaches must give good and bad performance news to employees and team members. Also, romantic partners may at times have to give good and bad relationship news to their partner. If these deliverers do a poor job of giving good and bad news because they forget for a moment how they want to hear the news when they are the patients, students, employees, or spouses communication can quickly erode. Resulting in poor outcomes for both news-recipients and news-givers.
But which is actually better for us, getting good news first or bad? Another study suggests that the answer to this important question depends on whether you focus on your mood or on changing your behavior. Overall, we like to get bad news first because the last thing you hear affects your mood. However, it turns out that being a little unsettled can be motivating. So, if you are motivated to act on the bad feedback by making changes in your behavior, it is better to focus on what is wrong and to hear the good news first and the bad news last.