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Does Good News Or Bad News Motivate Us More?

When you’re delivering an important message in your organization what do you consider? Perhaps you’re introducing a new strategy, updating people on performance targets, or letting people know about the next restructure. And while I’m sure you think carefully about the content of your message, how often do you shape what you’re sharing based on what people might be already feeling and how this may impact what they take in?

Recently I interviewed Neil Garrett, a cognitive neuroscientist from the Affective Brain Lab at the University College of London to see what his team have recently discovered about the way our brains react to good and bad news and how this might impact the way we communicate in companies.

Neil noted that it appears most of us are hardwired with an optimism bias, that means we have a tendency to pay more attention to good news and incorporate this into our understanding of the world around us, but when we’re given bad news we’re more likely to discount or ignore its relevance to us.

For example, when asked to estimate the likelihood of having a car accident in the future and then given the good news that research suggests it is much lower you will take this information on board and adjust your future estimates. But if you’re given the bad news that research suggests it is much higher than you thought you are less likely to take this information on board and instead stick around your original estimate.

As a result Neil suggested that giving people positive information can tap into their optimism bias making it more likely they will remember what’s shared and feel motivated to act upon it. For example, when you give people feedback about their strengths and ways to build upon them they are more likely to take this on board and act accordingly because of their optimism bias, than they are feedback about weaknesses and how to fix them which they are more likely to ignore.

That said, there is one important exception when communicating positively may backfire. Watch the video below to discover my a-ha moment.

Or listen to my full interview with Neil here.

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