Why you should get straight to the point when delivering bad news

When it comes time to deliver bad news, the temptation may be to stall. However, new research reveals that recipients prefer hearing it straight up.

The research undertaken by Brigham Young University linguistics professor Alan Manning and the University of South Alabama’s Nicole Amare points to candour being the best option.

The researchers undertook a study in which 145 participants were offered varied forms of hypothetical visual, textual and verbal bad news.

Participants received a range of bad-news scenarios and given two potential deliveries for each scenario. They were then required to rank how clear, considerate, direct, efficient, honest, specific and reasonable they perceived each message to be, along with which characteristics they valued most.

The researchers found that if someone is delivering bad news about a social relationship, a limited lead-in will suffice.

“An immediate, ‘I’m breaking up with you’ might be too direct,” Manning said.

“But all you need is a ‘we need to talk’ buffer — just a couple of seconds for the other person to process that bad news is coming.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to receiving negative information about physical facts, most people prefer directness.

“If your house is on fire, you just want to know that and get out,” Manning commented.

“Or if you have cancer, you’d just like to know that. You don’t want the doctor to talk around it.”

In a workplace, buffering bad news may make delivering it more comfortable, however, this feeling may not necessarily be shared by recipients or colleagues.

“If you’re on the giving end, yeah, absolutely, it’s probably more comfortable psychologically to pad it out — which explains why traditional advice is the way it is,” Manning observed.

“But this survey is framed in terms of you imagining you’re getting bad news and which version you find least objectionable. People on the receiving end would much rather get it this way.”

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