"Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first?"
That's a question all of us have asked and been asked countless times over the years, both in our business and in our personal lives. In fact, just last night I asked my wife that very question in reference to a mirror installed yesterday in our bathroom -- gorgeous, but with a deep scratch that originated in a factory somewhere in China.
When someone asks you that question, what's your answer?
According to Daniel Pink, best-selling author of the new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, timing is everything, and this extends to the delivery of good or bad news. He admits that intuitively, when working with employees, he always thought the best approach was to give them the good news first. He didn't want to come across as a jerk, or seem too aggressive, and he thought telling them the good news first would cushion the inevitable blow of the bad news.
But, says Pink in an interview in the Washington Post, "That is wrong -- the research tells us this very, very clearly. If you ask people what they prefer, four out of five prefer getting the bad news first. The reason has to do with endings. Given the choice, human beings prefer endings that elevate. We prefer endings that go up, that have a rising sequence rather than a declining sequence."
This explains why people like to watch films or read books with a happy, inspiring ending -- one that makes them feel good. Pink adds, "We tend to think that we ourselves are special. When we give feedback we think, oh, that person can't possibly want the bad news first, even though I do -- I'm so unique. And so we act in ways that are different from our own preferences because we think other people don't have the same ones."
So, the next time you've got good news and bad news to deliver, you likely can't go wrong by delivering the bad news first. That's exactly what most people want to hear, and you're typically not doing anyone any favors by trying to soften the blow of the bad news by telling the good news first.