Don’t be afraid to deliver bad news – people take it better than you think

Photo by basykes


A few weeks ago I wrote in my other blog a post titled – Just say it:

Let me ask you this – how many times in your life did you go into a situation you were afraid of but it ended up being nothing at all? More importantly, how many times a small lie or just not revealing all the information you knew, ended up with terrible consequences?

I think it happens to us a lot. We all have these internal defense mechanisms that try to intimidate us. We all assume the worse about the other side and his reaction to the information we hold. But usually, not only our assumption about the other side’s reaction is wrong, holding the information is what really gets them going… because if you just spoke out loud, it could have been corrected or prevented.

And today I read this article titled – Is optimism rational?:

But here’s something we know to be true: people adapt to bad news much more readily than they expect they will. So it could well be the case that those things are asymmetric. That there’s more utility to be gained or lost ahead of an event than after an event. The disappointment isn’t as big a deal as we think it is. And if that’s the case, it’s nice to have a little optimism because it feels better.

The article talks about how people feel before and after an event. I am more interested in what it implies about people’s reaction to bad news. It turns out that people can take bad news better than we think they can. And if that is the truth – maybe we should be less afraid putting thing on the table. Less afraid to come to the boss with bad news.  Yes, there are people who will take it badly. There are bosses who will fire the messenger.  But maybe not as much as we think.

We remember and hear more about cases where bad news was received badly because it is not that interesting to hear about the cases that ended nicely. “He came up to the boss and told him that the strategy was wrong and the boss said – ‘that is a great point’ and used that in the discussion” does not make a good story as “He came up to the boss and told him that the strategy was wrong and the boss said – ‘you are fired!’ On the spot!”. Maybe it is a classic case of availability heuristic.

Am I being too optimistic?



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