“Surprise!” – Please, No Surprises

1.7.16 surpriseHow about you, are you a fan of being surprised?  Sure, you say, I love surprises – bring it on!  But wait, let’s dissect this and really think about it.

What you love are good surprises, when someone who really knows you well surprises you unexpectedly, which is touching and rather pleasing.  But how often does that really happen?

We are all uncomfortable with the unknown, especially when it jumps out at us unexpectedly.  A jack in the box popping out is frightening, not enjoyable; a scary surprise.

Surprise!  – I bought this unusual (code: useless) gift for you because I couldn’t think of what else to buy and thought you’d get a kick out of it. [What a complete waste of good money.]

Surprise!  – We’ve arrived to spend a full weekend with you and managed to keep our plans secret! [You didn’t give me any notice at all and are planning to stay for the entire long weekend?!?]

Surprise!  – My plans were cancelled, so now I can go with you after all [But I’ve already made plans without you and will have to change everything that was all set]

Surprise!  – I bought you a puppy for your birthday [I wish I had known so I could have picked it out for myself]

And the typical, all shout together now: “Surprise!” – Happy Birthday house full of company [on a bad hair, really tired, want to be alone day]

Face it, personal surprises are more distressful than delightful.  Stick your hand in this dark box for a surprise. [Yeah, no!]

I understand holding out for the few and far between delightful surprises, but you have to suffer all the numerous and more frequent unwanted surprises to get the few.  My vote is to make your feelings public – tell everyone you know: don’t surprise me, I hate surprises.  Code: I’m fussy on my individual preferences and hard to please.

If you’re not like me and really do like surprises, that means you’re not picky and are easy to please, easily delighted and appreciative.  “Surprise me” gives the other person the chance to do something good, but also creates the anxiety of possible failure; was my choice good enough?

So what if you don’t know whether the person you’re dying to surprise will be offended or delighted?  Your first clue is how much control the person likes to have.  Ask this question: control freak or carefree in letting things happen as they will?  The person who loves control absolutely hates surprises.

Except when the stakes are low.  If a decision is not very important, then surprises, even negative surprises (wrong color, wrong taste level, wrong choice) can easily be fixed.  But when there’s a lot riding on something, when it’s very important, when there’s no going back, it may not be worth rolling the high stakes dice if you’re not 100% sure.

When you are 100% sure, then surprises are indeed absolutely wonderful.  The serviceman that comes home unexpectedly is 100% sure of a delighted reaction.  The elaborate proposal, when there is no question that the answer is ‘absolutely yes!’ is wondrous. The opening of a gift that the receiver was pining for and the giver remembered is delightful giving.  Everyone loves that feeling of being enveloped in love that a 100% certain surprise brings.

Outside of personal surprises, businesses also have the ability to surprise in a positive way.  One memorable instance was a NYC restaurant that with the dinner check presented breakfast muffins beautifully packaged, for the next morning’s enjoyment.  Big wow factor.

Amazon surprises some customers who are returning products by saying ‘keep it’ as well as giving them their money back for an unwanted item.  Sure, it’s just good business sense not to re-stock certain price points when doing so costs more than they are worth, and the positive surprise effect promotes such good will.

LL Bean’s surprising customer service is legendary at this point.  Ditto REI.

Planning to communicate your own surprise anytime soon?  Beware the closeted surprise haters and decide the best course of action.

Psst! want to know in advance how the movie ends…?



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