Good News or Bad News First?

I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first? Why? And what does your order choice mean?



Personally, I want to hear the bad news first. Otherwise, I’ll be dreading it the whole time I’m hearing the good. And what if the bad news isn’t bad enough to merit its ruining the good? Others tell me they like to hear the good news first because if the bad news is bad enough to activate pessimism, then nothing will sound good after it.

What does research say?

Hearing The News
Psychologist researchers Drs. Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny look at the Good News versus Bad News question in a 2013 article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Overall, they find that: 78% of people want to hear bad news first. The most popular explanation? News recipients would rather hear the good news last to make themselves feel better.

Legg and Sweeny do find that if behaviour change is the goal, then people are more motivated to change if they hear the relevant bad news last.


Delivering The News
Drs. Legg and Sweeny were also interested in whether people prefer to deliver good or bad news first. 54% preferred to give the good news first; 46% preferred to give the bad news first.

Those who were more other-focused – i.e: thinking about how the person hearing the news would feel – were more likely to give the bad news first (eg: so the person “can remember the good on her way out.”) Those who were more self-focused – i.e: thinking about how they would feel delivering the news – were more likely to give the good news first (“it makes me feel uncomfortable to give bad news first.”)


Couples’ News
And what about good news, bad news and couples?

Interestingly, it’s how partners respond to each other’s good news that seems to be most important. As Psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in her 2013 book The Myths of Happiness: ‘The surprising finding is that the closest, most intimate, and most trusting relationships appear to be distinguished not by how the partners respond to each other’s disappointments, losses, and reversals, but how they react to good news.’

Photo: Alec Shuper



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton