Bad News/Good News – Which Comes First?

Conventional wisdom about performance feedback indicates that you should start off a meeting with the employee with good news. Indeed, we’ve written in the past about the importance of creating a positive communicative atmosphere. In that spirit, we said:

  • Be sensitive to the employee’s feelings. Always begin the meeting by providing positive feedback. Point out specific accomplishments, noting how they’ve contributed to the group’s efforts and to the organization.
  • Emphasize problem-solving and concentrate on future actions that can be taken in any areas that need improvement.

That always seemed to make sense. Build them up before you talk about where things went wrong or can improve.

Then I read an interview with Dan Pink in the Washington Post on Sunday, January 7, 2018. Dan was talking about his new book, When. The last question posed to him by Jena McGregor was: “When you’re giving feedback to employees, should you give good news or bad news first? Dan responded, saying that he’s changed his behavior and thinking on this issue. There was a time when he agreed with the conventional wisdom and wanted to “offer a cushion before bringing down the hammer.” 

He explained why he’s reversed thinking on this. Apparently, there is research that shows most people prefer getting the bad news first and ending on a positive note. If we stopped to consider what we’d prefer, we would probably agree – have an ending that goes up rather than down. However, we act in ways different from our own preferences because we think we’re unique and other people don’t have the same preferences as we do.

The interview made me stop and consider how I might approach giving negative feedback or news in the future. Nevertheless, I still advise being sensitive to the other person’s feels and emphasizing problem solving. The news may be negative, but it needs to be delivered in a positive manner.

What do you think? Bad news or good news, which should come first? How might you adjust your future performance discussions? 

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