When Bad News Is Good News


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There seems to be bad news everywhere today, but sometimes news may be thought of as bad or good depending on the eye of the beholder.

Consider my real-life good news/bad news story. In my last real job, I scheduled a meeting with the management of the division I worked for. I was a marketing manager and decided I needed to inform them of the direction my group’s segment of industry was headed. That was the good news. The bad news was our company currently wasn’t headed in the same direction as the industry. I felt obligated to point that out, along with my plan for what I thought we could and should do to be successful.Screenshot 2016-11-18 08.15.51.png

The gentlemen in the room listened politely. After I made my case, the division vice-president thanked me for what he called a very enlightening presentation. He didn’t dispute the fact the industry was headed in the direction I had described, but simply said we (the company) were not going to go in that direction. End of meeting. History has since validated my assessment of the industry’s direction – and the V.P.’s assessment of the company’s direction. The industry went one way and the company went the other – the division of the company I worked for no longer exists.

Bad news is sometimes good news. For example, you’re driving along the highway on a pitch black night and encounter a sign that warns: “BRIDGE OUT AHEAD.” Now, you can’t change the fact that the bridge is out. Would you rather see a sign that lets you know the “bad news” so you can change your course, or would you rather have no warning sign?

We don’t want to hear bad news because that means we have to deal with it. It requires us to engage in that most difficult of human behaviors – change. Change is hard. It requires effort and struggle. It’s much easier to engage in delusion. Maybe the bridge isn’t really out. Maybe it was repaired and they forgot to remove the sign. This way of thinking enables us to avoid the thing we don’t want to do – turn around and head in a new direction. In psychological terms, this means developing a new pattern of behavior. Traveling down the old road is much more comfortable because we are addicted to the old pattern. It feels good – because it is the path of least resistance – but it’s a wreck waiting to happen. That’s the real bad news.

It helps if we quit classifying news as good or bad and instead accept it for just what it is – reality. Like it or not, our job is to make the best decisions we can based on reality. It is only in retrospect that we can accurately evaluate whether the news and our decisions were good or bad.

I quit my job six months after my meeting with the management. That was nearly 30 years ago. The bad news is, because of my propensity for sharing reality with my bosses, I haven’t had a real job since. The good news is, because of that same personality trait, I now get paid to do that same thing as a consultant. I thought the management’s decision to not change course was bad news. But it was good news, because I decided to change course.

Yes, bad news really can be good news – depending on what we choose to do about it.