Good News Or Bad News First? Study Shows When We Prefer One Over The Other

Yes, There Is A Right Way To Deliver Bad News

When someone asks you if you want to hear the good news or the bad news first, do you have a go-to answer?

A new study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests the decision may depend on whether you're the giver or the receiver of the news.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, found that recipients of news are more likely to want to receive bad news before good news, but givers of news are more likely to want to give good news before bad news.

And ever heard of the "bad news sandwich," where good news is given before and after delivering bad news? Researchers found that this method of delivering bad news mainly benefits the givers, and not the receivers, of the news.

"Although recipients may be pleased to end on a high note, they are unlikely to enjoy anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop during the initial good news," study researchers Angela M. Legg and Kate Sweeny said in a statement. Legg just completed her Ph.D. in psychology, while Sweeny is an assistant professor of psychology at the university.

In addition, the researchers noted that if your goal is to get someone to change a behavior after hearing the bad news, a "bad news sandwich" might not be your best bet. That's because people might forget or get confused about the bad news message as it's muddled with the good news.

"It's important to fit the delivery to the outcome goal," Legg added in the statement. "If you're a physician delivering a diagnosis and prognosis that are severe, where there is nothing the patient can do, tell them the bad news first and use positive information to help them accept it. If there are things a patient can do, give them the bad news last and tell them what they can do to get better."

These findings support those of a 1981 study in the journal Social Behavior and Personality, which also showed that recipients of news prefer to hear the bad before the good.

Wired pointed out that per a study in the journal Management Science, when delivering bad news, it could be good to apply the "silver-lining principle" -- in other words, pointing out the one not-so-bad thing that occurred in tandem with the bad news. Wired explains three strategies for doing so here.

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