When receiving bad news, people are actually going to shoot the messenger, according to a new study.
The Harvard Business Review conducted several different experiments testing peoples tolerance to bad news. Regardless of the situation, the study found that people were unhappy with the person delivering bad news despite the bearer not having any direct influence on the decision.
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One test involved receiving news from a doctor regarding biopsy results. Whether it’s an annual checkup or a visit for a sore throat, doctors tend to be the punching bag regardless of the outcome. Researchers told participants their skin biopsy results and found that participants who were told they have cancer not only disliked the doctor more than those who received better news, but also thought the doctor had wished that they were sick.
It’s rough out there for messengers
Another instance involved a $2 game of chance, where one person selected a name from a hat while a different person delivered the results to the participant. The study concluded that those who lost liked the messenger much less than those who had won.
No matter how bad news is delivered or shaped, there’s little to do to save the messenger.
Interventions aimed at discouraging shooting the messenger were found “unlikely to be fruitful.” However, messengers can try sugarcoating the bad news with something positive first to lessen the blow. For instance, wishing the recipient luck or hoping for the best before delivering the negative news can result in the person to take the criticism more seriously and lessen the blow from the messenger.
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