Do you want the good news first or the bad?
Research shows that most people – about 88% of us – prefer to get the bad news first. So, here it is: There’s another half of 2020 to go.
I might prefer to give you the good news first. The same study I mentioned found people would rather give the news in the opposite order from the way we prefer to receive it. Most of us want to postpone or avoid delivering negative information.
Here’s an interesting (but unscientific) test. Run a Google search for “first, the good news,” and you’ll get five million search results. Search “first, the bad news” and you’ll find just over a million results.
People also overestimate their ability to judge how bad or good the news is. Have you ever been asked whether you want the good news or the bad news first – only to hear, “No. I’ll give you the good news first because the bad news isn’t so bad.” And then to decide the sharer was wrong about the bad news.
By the way, the good news? There’s another half of 2020 to go.
Think about the time between the bad and the good news. Even if the bad news is delivered first, the time before the good news arrives tends to fill with anxiety and dread. People listen while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Why does the other shoe dropping incite dread? Couldn’t it inspire hope?
The idiom “waiting for the other shoe to drop” originated in early 20th century New York when, in large apartment buildings, it was normal to hear your upstairs neighbors remove their shoes after a long day. After one shoe hit the ground with a thud, the expectation arose that there’d be a second thud, completing the news that your neighbor was home.
I think “the other shoe” came to be so closely associated with bad news due to the anxiety created from expecting another jarring disruption when the other shoe drops. The general expectation has become that if there’s any news following an initial surprise, it *must* be bad news.
You don’t usually hear, “She just got engaged to the love of her life, but just wait till the other shoe drops.” If someone did say that, the implication wouldn’t be that the follow-up news is great (“and they just got an amazing new house together”). It would be that it’s something bad (“and she just found out her partner just got fired for embezzlement.”)
As communicators, we can learn from these observations.
The first lesson is to acknowledge (and resist) our tendency to focus on our own emotional concern (avoiding the bad news by delivering good news first) despite the opposite preference from our audience.
The second lesson is that the other shoe doesn’t have to be bad news – even if the first shoe was. When I told you the bad news is that we still have half of 2020 to go and the good news is, well, exactly the same as the bad news – did that feel like a jolt or a relief?
Despite the bad-news shoe that fell in the first half of 2020, I take the second shoe as good news. I think we got the bad news out of the way. I’m waiting, hoping, and readying for a better second half to 2020.
I’m waiting for that second shoe so I can use it to run faster – even if I eventually fall with a great big, beautiful boom.
It’s your story. Tell it well.