How to Share Good News When Others Are Struggling
A guide to discussing your new job – or even a romance
Few conversations are as toe-curlingly awkward as telling an unemployed friend that you’ve LANDED YOUR DREAM JOB! or revealing to a heartbroken pal that you’ve FOUND THE ONE! And yet good news happens all the time, even during a pandemic. How should you share news with those who’re struggling?
“The message here is not to go publicize your success,” says Emma Levine, associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who recently published studies tracking 1,687 people as they shared (and failed to share) personal and professional successes. Her research is aptly titled “Hiding Successes.” “The key is to genuinely share your success with those close to you, and to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will feel happy.”
The pivotal word here is “genuine.” Sincerity plays a critical role in relationships, and authentic emotion is perceived as more sincere. So rather than harp on your accomplishment, talk about your positive emotions. For example, rather than saying, “I’m the new CFO and my salary doubled!,” you might say, “I feel so lucky that I’m employed, and I’m just feeling really proud.”
There’s a reason that you feel so sheepish about sharing your coup: Humans are prone to jealousy, particularly when hearing good news from a person to whom they compare, Levine says. But friends also want to feel joy for loved ones, and are quite capable of feeling multiple emotions. Some more advice on sharing good fortune:
Only hide success if the person definitely will not find out. For example, if you ditch social media and move to Fiji to shack up with your fling of three weeks, perhaps your ex doesn’t need to know about it. But if you live down the street from your ex and she’s gonna see you two together, the news should definitely come from you.
When the broader topic comes up in conversation, just simply state your good news. Otherwise, your friend will be miffed that she asked what’s new, and you didn’t mention it. “Allow them to feel happy for you, even if it’s uncomfortable,” Levine says.
Avoid sharing additional private details that wouldn’t otherwise come out. No need to explain that your fling is definitely your soul mate and that you’re finding great happiness together. Ditto with the precise amount of your annual bonus, or the fact that there’s no mortgage on your new house, or the exact test scores that got you into Harvard Law. Unless you’re directly asked for more information, change the topic.
Emphasize others. If relevant, underscore your gratitude to others for their camaraderie or teamwork, which both signal modesty. For example, you might say that you’re grateful to your finance team at work, whose successes through the pandemic allowed you to snag this wonderful CFO gig.
Though it may seem like we’re in an age of endless self-promotion, people commonly hide their successes, especially from close friends and romantic partners.
“It actually comes from good intentions,” says co-author Ovul Sezer, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “People are trying to make sure that no one feels bad or worse. Usually they want to be friendly, or they want to feel close — perhaps they want to keep the relationship in the same place despite their success,” Sezer says.
If you’re considering withholding your news, don’t do that. Social research rarely provides cut-and-dried dos and don’ts, but this one is a clear don’t. If you stay mum — or, more likely, just put off the conversation indefinitely — then your loved one will find out through the grapevine or on Instagram, and “she’ll be mad that you thought she’d get jealous, or insulted that you would presume that she’d be threatened, and that can really undermine a relationship,” Levine says. “People universally feel less close to a person who hid something, and less trusting of that person.”
To your friend, your staying mum feels paternalistic, as if you’re trying to manipulate or emotionally regulate her, and that’s a no-win situation. “It backfires,” Sezer says. “Hiding success doesn’t help at all.”