Call me a typical HR lady but I hate surprises. Surprise is off-putting. Surprise is presumptive. When you surprise someone, you are saying, “I know better than you.”

Surprise, in the words of Alethea Black, is inherently hostile.

Can some surprises be great? Sure. Yes. Hooray. But more often than not, surprises go terribly wrong in ways we don’t expect. Layoffs should never really surprise anyone but they always do. Health insurance and retirement benefits change constantly and it always takes your employees by surprise. Earnings reports shock markets, which is crazy because communications departments spend months trying to massage analysts and make them feel better about future earnings reports.

I’ve even seen surprise baby showers at work go wrong. A new mother is nervous about the impending birth of her child and everyone in the office wants to rub her tummy.

Surprise! Smile for Facebook! Have some angel food cake!

The next time you want to surprise someone, ask yourself why. Would the recipient really enjoy the surprise? Could the event or the message be communicated in a better way? Is the surprise meant to benefit someone else or is it simply for your selfish edification?

Sometimes a ‘head’s up’ is a better gift — and a better strategy — than the surprise itself.

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