Good News Or Bad? What A Bad Question
November 16, 2013

Good News Or Bad? What A Bad Question

How often do we hear the phrase, “Do you want to hear the good news or bad news first?” For most of us, we have heard this at least once in our lives and likely far more often than that. Many people prefer to hear the bad news first to get it out of the way and end on a good news note; however, others want the good news first to help them prepare to deal with the bad news. It turns out news-breaking and news-receiving are far more complicated than this, as redOrbit writer Lee Rannals reported.

See, when a news-breaker gives the bad news first, sometimes the intensity, severity, or importance of the bad news is overshadowed or lost when the good news follows. On the other hand, when starting with the good news, people might be too anxious about the bad news to appreciate the good news. In the words of the redOrbit article, “Psychologists found that recipients of bad news overwhelmingly want to hear the negative news first, but the messenger prefers to give the good news first. They also found that when good news is introduced in a conservation [it] can influence the recipient’s decision to act or change his or her behavior.”

Rannals explains that recipients of bad news want to hear the bad news first while the news-breakers want to give the good news first. In other words, nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. But as Rannals notes, “The researchers suggest that news-recipients benefit from a good-then-bad news approach when the bad news is useful to them. They say this because bad news may cause the intended message to get lost and leave the receiver confused.”

So perhaps the answer is not to start a conversation with the infamous question “Do you want to hear the good news or bad news first?” When we know that we will be hearing both good and bad news, we start to try guessing at both. We also feel the anxiety grow and become distracted. When this happens, both the good news and bad news lose their potency and effect. No longer are we paying attention to the news as closely as we should be, but we are feeling the impacts of our suspicions and anxiety.

I know that I hate hearing that question. Whenever someone asks me whether I want the good news or bad, I simply cringe. I would rather have someone come up to me and just start telling me the news. I do not care whether I hear good or bad first, but the mere question excites my concerns and emotions. Even if I know I should be expecting good news or bad news, or both, when someone asks me which I want first, I feel my blood pulse just a little bit faster, and my hearts beats harder.

The other issue about this question is that it puts the responsibility of the news on the receiver instead of on the news-giver. If someone has news to tell me, then they should just tell me. They should own the responsibility of the news, and let me own the responsibility of how I process that news, of my reaction. Instead, this question puts the responsibility of both on the receiver because she has to choose which to hear first.

Sure, there are plenty of ways to break news, good and bad alike, but using the clichéd “Do you want good news or bad news first” just is not the way I want. We must own our news-breaker moments just as we must own our reactions.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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