How to Be a Good Bad News Bear

Give it to me straight, doc — wise words from any number of old Westerns, gangster movies, and war dramas. New research confirms what many of us may not want to admit: Hearing bad news without a lot of cushioning is the best way to hear bad news.

Per studies just released by a Brigham Young University linguist and a University of South Alabama communications expert, being overly polite or considerate before dropping the hammer can create more uncertainty and anxiety than necessary. Previous research focused on how to make delivery easier for the bearer of bad news. This study may confirm what you have thought or experienced yourself.

Particularly when receiving information about physical facts, such getting the sack at work, participants preferred ripping off the Band-Aid. "If we're negating physical facts, then there's no buffer required or desired," said BYU's Alan Manning in a press release. "If your house is on fire, you just want to know that and get out. Or if you have cancer, you'd just like to know that. You don't want the doctor to talk around it."

That said, some easing-in is appropriate in other situations. "An immediate 'I'm breaking up with you' might be too direct," Manning said. "But all you need is a 'we need to talk' buffer — just a couple of seconds for the other person to process that bad news is coming."

Whether you're a manager terminating an employee or a direct report sharing an unfavorable report, consider not beating around the bush when it comes to hard realities. The sooner everyone is on the same page, the sooner they can move on to next or corrective steps.