surprise - v.
- to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness
- to elicit or bring out suddenly and without warning: to surprise the facts from the witness.
- to lead or bring unawares, as into doing something not intended
I'm thinking about "surprise" today and what it means. Yesterday, at the Job, I announced a decision that I believed was mine to make and that I also understood to be an expected, eventual outcome of discussions and plans we all had in mid-January. In other words, none of this should be surprising. The only unknown was the date of the decision.
It was suggested to me that my decision should have been presented in person, rather than by email, and to one person at a time rather than to several all at once. I can't seem to reconcile this suggestion with "surprise" however. If you're going to be surprised, how does an in-person conversation change that? How does being told first change that?
I'm beginning to realize that another aspect to the meaning (if not the dictionary definition) of "surprise" is the sense of controlling the situation. When you are "surprised" you aren't in control.
If I say "Let's go to dinner at that new restaurant on the wharf", you have a chance to say "oh, not tonight, I had a huge lunch". If I simply drive you there and say "we're here!", it's more difficult for you to say "not tonight". When you're surprised, you don't have control.
Getting back to my decision at the Job, it's true that none of the people who received my email are in control of the decision. By telling them all at once, I haven't given one or two of them the chance to say "Oh, not today. Not this week. Not this quarter."
But if, as I believe, this was always my decision to make — a decision that was expected, even if the precise timing was flexible — then the control should always have been mine. I don't want to engage in additional conversations that may swerve me from my goal. Once made, I prefer to announce the decision to a broad group of players to reduce the likelihood that anyone will start asking me "Are you sure? You could always change your mind again."
Surprise! It's my decision and I've made it without your help.