Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 39;   September 28, 2005: Give Me the Bad News First

Give Me the Bad News First

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that if you wait long enough, there will be some bad news. The good news is that the good news helps us deal with the bad news. And it helps a lot more if we get the bad news first.
Apple Pie

Some of us have trouble with bad news. We reject it even before we hear it, or if we do let it in, we don't let ourselves feel it fully. In part, we do this because we constantly barrage each other with negative messages and unreasonable expectations about dealing with bad news:

  • You shouldn't feel so bad
  • Don't be such a downer
  • You're so negative

We're just as hard on ourselves about setting unreasonable standards of cheerfulness:

  • He's always cheerful
  • No matter how bad the situation, she's always levelheaded and positive
  • Never seen him without a smile on his face or a joke at the ready

And then there's the term "feeling bad," which we often use instead of "feeling hurt." The "bad" in "feeling bad" can make us feel that the feeling itself is bad. Of course, feelings aren't good or bad, they just are, but keeping that in mind can be difficult when you've just been hammered with some bad news.

Sometimes, things get so complicated that we feel hurt or guilty about feeling bad. That can set up a trap, unless you can somehow remember that it's perfectly human to feel hurt once in a while. Feeling hurt when something bad has happened is actually good. It's positive proof that there's life on Planet You.

When we deny our pain, trouble is on the way. That's why, to be safe, I usually want to hear the bad news first. Hearing the bad news first has lots of advantages.

Extra time to let it sink in
Because we don't like bad news, we tend to deny it. We need extra time to deal with bad news, because we get in our own way when receiving it.
A strong foundation for the good news
Really working through the When we deny our pain,
trouble is on the way.
bad news and the feelings that come with it is essential if you want a clear fix on reality. And you're sure to need that as you try to incorporate the good news.
Sharper focus
Hearing the good news first can be a tempting distraction that can get in the way of really grasping the bad news.
Better understanding of the good news
Knowing the bad news at the time we receive the good news can help us find inconsistencies in the good news, which can save trouble later.

When I hear the bad news first, I've saved the best for last. That way, when I move on to the next crisis or the next preoccupation, I'm charged up from the good news I've just heard. Maybe that's why we eat dessert at the end of the meal. Now please pass me another piece of apple pie. Go to top Top  Next issue: Recalcitrant Collaborators  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A doorknobDoorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
A red-tailed hawkAppreciate the Moment
Often, we focus our awareness where we aren't or when we aren't. Whether we're in a heated meeting, or blowing out the candles of a birthday cake, being fully present can make our experiences more positive and memorable. Why are we so often someplace else? When we are, how can we come back? Or better, how can we stay fully present when we want to?
A light bulb, the universal symbol of creativityAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
The Lincoln Memorial at sunriseOrganizational Loss: Searching Behavior
When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
An apple and a skyscraper full of windowsHow We Waste Time: II
We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Representative Don Young, Republican of AlaskaComing June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
Filling a form in hardcopyAnd on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.