Psychologists Angela M. Legg and Kate Sweeny wrote that the process of giving or getting bad news is difficult for most people, particularly when news-givers feel unsure about how to proceed with the conversation.
Legg, who completed her Ph.D. in psychology in October, and Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology, said that the difficulty of delivering bad news has inspired extensive popular media articles that prescribe 'best' practices for giving bad news, but these prescriptions remain largely anecdotal rather than empirically based.
In a series of experiments, the psychologists found that recipients of bad news overwhelmingly want to hear that bad news first, while news-givers prefer to deliver good news first.
If news-givers can put themselves in the recipient's shoes, or if they're pushed to consider how to make the recipient feel better, then they might be willing to give news like recipients want them to. Otherwise, a mismatch is almost inevitable.
The study has been published in journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.