Hesitation to Share Bad News: By-Product of Verbal Message Planning or Functional Communication Behavior?

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Research on bad news delivery reveals a reliable temporal delay in the onset of the bad news message from the sender to the receiver. Two experiments utilized a false feedback test design to determine whether the delay is better accounted for by negative verbal message planning, politeness, or both. Both studies (Ns = 135 and 138) featured participant-senders who delivered either scripted or unscripted good, neutral, or bad news to a stranger. News valence, delay before response, and reluctance were measured. Both experiments supported the functional politeness explanation. Study 2 also supported the negative verbal message-planning explanation. Implications and limitations are discussed.