goodnbn2Mediators, negotiators and especially lawyers, frequently give bad news to their clients.  Thankfully, the news normally isn’t all bad, so how should this mix be properly delivered? This is the topic of an article on the Science Daily website.

According to research by psychologists Angela M. Legg and Kate Sweeny from the University of California, Riverside, those who give the news prefer to give good news then bad news.  However, their research has also shown that generally those on the receiving end would rather have the opposite, bad news then good.

Their research was divided into three studies.  The third study showed that those hearing bad news then good news felt less worried.  If the goal is to provide some emotional relief, that would be the way to go.

However, if the goal is to change the behavior of the listener, then communicating good news then bad news may be more effective.  Legg is quoted as stating, “If you’re a manager, a bad news sandwich (bad news then good) can make people feel good, but it might not help them improve their behavior.”

The logic behind this is if the person feels good about a situation, because the good news is the last thing they hear and it lifts them up, they may be less likely to feel a situation is so compellingly bad that it needs to change.

The goal of a negotiator or mediator is to have the parties reach an agreement.  The negotiator represents a party in the negotiation and will want the best agreement possible for that party.  A mediator should have no interest in which party gets the most benefit from an agreement.  The mediator’s interest is getting to a fair agreement that the parties are fully informed of and agree to. Both actors want to shape the perceptions and actions of those to whom they’re speaking to.

The negotiator could use this technique when communicating to the other party, saying something like, my client agrees to your proposal on compensation, which is very important, however, if you don’t make some movement on retirement benefits, this can be a deal breaker and no one wants that.

A negotiator may feel someone within his/her own camp is unnecessarily impeding an agreement and, behind closed doors, may also use good news then bad to get that person onboard.  In either case, if the end result is a feeling by the listener that a bad situation needs to be avoided, it may result in action.

A big part of a mediator’s job is to keep the process moving in a positive direction and make the parties feel vested in the process and want it to continue.  The mediator, like the negotiator, can forecast for both parties sunny skies with an agreement and stormy weather without one.  But the mediator could also use this technique to get the parties more vested and active in the process itself, saying the good news is we’ve resolved 80% of the problems, the bad news is we’ve got a tough 20% to go.  Let’s not waste all the time and energy we’ve spent to get this far, let’s close the deal so you can put this behind you and move on.

The good news from these studies is that you, as a negotiator and lawyer, have another technique that could help your client influence the actions and decisions of others. Lead with the good news, follow with the bad and work from there.

Sources are hyperlinked above.