What comes first: Good News or Bad News?

How many times have we heard the expression “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” It seems to be a common expression in both casual and professional conversation when reporting on previous events or gathering information of a subject. I feel like this phrase is not appropriate to use when presenting in a professional environment. Really, for that matter, it’s probably not a good idea in casual conversation either.

As a child, I was taught to present the bad news first – as was the generally accepted practice where I grew up (in the Midwest). To not present the bad news first would be like hiding something and not being forthright.  It was perceived as being dishonest not to state negative aspects first.

As I have traversed through the business world and observed successful people and not-so-successful people, I have come to the conclusion that forthright people should be admired. Being forthright is indeed a worthy goal. The world would be better off if this goal was widely pursued. However, the sequencing of delivering a report that I was taught growing up should be modified.  I would agree that not telling the negative aspects of a report would be deceiving and should never be practiced. However, with the question of which should be presented first, good news or bad news, I contend that, without doubt, the good news should be presented first.  Not only should the good news be presented first, but it should be punctuated with supporting artifacts, metrics, and testimonials. I don’t propose that success should be exaggerated, but it should be presented in the best possible light as long as the integrity of the information can be maintained.

People like to hear good news; however, it doesn’t seem to have the impact of bad news. When people hear bad news they seem to get stuck and are not receptive to the good news that follows. I’ve found managers, in particular, will get stuck trying to solve the problem presented in the negative news and will pay little attention to the positive news presented later. This is because managers typically are problem solvers, especially senior managers. They probably got to the position of senior manager because they could solve problems.

I have heard the old cliché, “Good news travels fast.” It seems to ring truer to me that, “Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster.”  Chances are, if something negative happens on your project, the “word” has traveled up the grapevine and management has already heard the rumor. By presenting the well-documented good news first, it will lessen the impact of the bad news when presented.

Presenting good news before bad news also reinforces another time-tested cliché, “Always put your best foot forward.” Enjoy the good news as long as you can.

Now the good news is that this is the end of the article, the bad news is that there is still a lot of writing to go.

How do you prefer to give/receive news? Good or bad news first?

From Darrell Stiffler

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2 comments

  1. Ping Reply

    In your opinion, instead of delivering news, how about giving comment to other people? Is it present in the same way as well? Thank you.

  2. Nathalia Reply

    My mom and I were just discussing this after someone asked a group of us the same question and everyone except me said that they wanted the bad news first. I like hearing the good news first so the bad news won’t seem as bad. However my mom likes to hear the bad news first in order to think more realistically when the good new is being given.