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Ending on a Good Note

Ending on a Good Note

From the Archives

Image of valentine giftbox with small pink heart on wooden background, Ending on a Good Note Want to make the best of a bad situation or make a good event more positive? Welcome to the peak-and-end rule.

The peak-and-end rule refers to the way we remember, and therefore evaluate, events of the past. It says that two points in any encounter stand out the most in our memory: the peak emotional moment and the ending. This is how we evaluate whether it was a good event for us or not.

This rule has been validated in research in a number of situations: personal relationships, standing in line, evaluating others’ feelings, undergoing painful and/or medical procedures, and watching commercials.

Part of this rule defies logic: how long an event lasts doesn’t matter in our evaluation as much as the peak and end points. A study that is even painful to read about proves this exception. Patients undergoing colonoscopies were tested for the peak and end rule. They evaluated the experience according to the peak and end pain, and not how long they were in pain. Half the subjects underwent a longer colonscopy where the pain was reduced significantly the last few minutes of the procedure. The other half experienced a much shorter colonscopy with the same pain intensity, but no dropoff at the end. Guess which procedure patients judged more favorably and were even willing to repeat? The longer one.

There are times when the peak-and-end rule does not apply. If an event is continuous and the ending hasn’t happened, the end point cannot be measured and does not impact evaluations. If an episode is goal-directed, the end effect may have sole impact on evaluation.

Good to know when you go for a colonoscopy, but what does this mean in business? Although the peak-and-end effect of many business events hasn’t been formally studied, we can make some common sense assumptions.

Try to end meetings, customer service calls, conversations, performance reviews, interviews, and other daily corporate events on a positive note, even if most of the event went poorly. Don’t give up if things start to go sour, in other words. Keep hanging in there.

We hear so much about the importance of first impressions. Now there is some research that suggests we should be mindful of our last impressions as well.

(Source: Fredrickson, Barbara. (2000). Extracting meaning from past affective experiences: the importance of peaks, ends, and specific emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 14 (4), 577-606.)

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