Nobody wants to receive bad news, but when they must they prefer receiving it straight, without much buffer, suggests new research.
So when it comes to delivering bad news, one should speak direct and not beat around the bush – as most people prefer directness and candour when they must hear something unpleasant.
“If we’re negating physical facts, then there’s no buffer required or desired,” said Alan Manning, Professor at Brigham Young University in the US.
For example, “if your house is on fire, you just want to know that and get out. Or if you have cancer, you’d just like to know that. You don’t want the doctor to talk around it,” Manning said at the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm 2017) in Madison, Wisconsin.
For the study, 145 study participants received a range of bad-news scenarios, and with each scenario they were given two potential deliveries.
For each received message, they ranked how clear, considerate, direct, efficient, honest, specific and reasonable they perceived it to be. They also ranked which of those characteristics they valued most.
The researchers found that if someone is delivering bad news about a social relationship – think “I’m breaking up with you” or “I’m sorry, you’re fired,” one might prefer they ease into it with the tiniest of buffers.
However, “an immediate ‘I’m breaking up with you’ might be too direct,” said Manning, adding, “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.”
Participants, for the most part, valued clarity and directness over other characteristics, the researchers noted