How to Deliver Bad News in a Good Way
Good to know. From Wired magazine, July 2010:
There is good news and bad news. Bad news first: Sometimes you have to deliver bad news. The good news, though, is that the authors of a recent study in Management Science figured out how to take advantage of the silver-lining principle — the observation that separating a small gain from a large loss makes the loss less painful. In other words, they went looking for the best way to deliver a mix of craptastic tidings (“Sorry, dude, someone at the Genius Bar totally sat on your iPad”) and happy information (“It was Megan Fox, and she wants to say she’s sorry”). Using online gambling games with varying amounts of losses or gains, the researchers asked participants which scenarios they preferred. The upshot? There are a few different strategies for laying it all out there. Choose wisely.
If you need to, say, tell customers about a new $100 fee, it’s better to hit them with the bad news, talk about something else, and then mention their $10 rebate coupon. The bigger the difference between the gain and loss, the more you should separate the news.
If the gain and loss are close to equivalent, consider your audience. Most people would be terrified by a $1 million loss, even if it came with an offsetting $1 million gain. Just say everything is fine. On the other hand, risk-takers (venture capitalists, ninjas) will want to see raw numbers.
If you want to confuse your audience as to just how bad (or good) your news is, change the currency halfway through. Giving employees extra sick days but taking away free soda and snacks, for instance, makes it harder for them to calculate the value of what they’ve lost.
Illustration: Francesco Muzzi
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