Breaking up with someone is always awkward, but a new study suggests that you shouldn’t beat around the bush when doing it.
Researchers looked at the best way to deliver bad news, and found that most people prefer directness, rather than a build-up of small talk.
Instead of opening with the break-up, scientists suggest that a simple ‘we need to talk’ is enough to soften the blow, without adding too much of a buffer.
Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah looked at the best ways to deliver bad news, and found that people value directness over an extended and overly polite lead in.
Professor Alan Manning, who led the study, said: ‘An immediate ‘I’m breaking up with you’ might be too direct.
‘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.’
And when it comes to receiving negative information about physical facts, such as ‘that water is toxic’, most people want it straight up, without a lead-in.
Professor Manning said: ‘If we’re negating physical facts, then there’s no buffer required or desired.
‘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.’
In the study, 145 participants received a range of bad-news scenarios, and were given two potential deliveries for each.
For each received message, they ranked how clear, considerate, direct, efficient, honest, specific and reasonable they perceived it to be.
They also ranked which of those characteristics they valued most.
Results showed that for the most part, participants valued clarity and directness over other characteristics.
Professor Manning added: ‘If you’re on the giving end, yeah, absolutely, it’s probably more comfortable psychologically to pad it out — which explains why traditional advice is the way it is.
‘This survey is framed in terms of you imagining you’re getting bad news and which version you find least objectionable.
‘People on the receiving end would much rather get it this way.’
Though the buffer in giving bad news is almost always a bad idea, there are cases when it can be valuable.
When trying to make a persuasive case for someone to change a firmly held opinion, strategic build-up can be important.
Professor Manning said: ‘People’s belief systems are where they’re the most touchy.
‘Any message that affects their belief system, their ego identity, that’s what you’ve got to buffer.’