Photo: Anthony Delanoix. Source: Fancycrave
Most of us want to get the bad news out of the way, then hear the good news. After all, who wants to leave a meeting depressed and upset? But people delivering the news usually want to start with the good news. We may be anxious about have a conversation, and we want our friends to be happy. Maybe something will interrupt us and we’ll get to the bad news. As Adam Smith pointed out 250 years ago in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, everyone wants to be both loved and lovely, respected and respectable.
Focusing too much on either side is a mistake. When we need to make a change, we need to know what to do – and we need to know the facts now, not sometime in the future. When we have to give negative feedback, we’re not doing the recipient any favors if we avoid the issue. Life isn’t just kittens and puppies.
Photo: Trys Gol. Source: Wikipedia
But no one likes to be around a negaholic – someone addicted to giving negative news. Saturday Night Live has a recurring sketch of “Debbie Downer,” who always manages to ruin a celebration with concerns about feline leukemia or some other depressing factoid. When Debbie was a young girl, her grandmother told her not to enjoy her birthday cake because gluten intolerance ran in her family.
The best approach may be a “bad news sandwich” – placing negative feedback inside two slices of positive news. But it depends on the news. Whatever the situation, be sure to keep it in perspective. It’s often not what we say, but how we say it.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA