One of my top principles for business relationships: No surprises

September 19, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Tips

I love a surprise birthday party. I love to surprise friends with good news. I once surprised a girlfriend with a Tiffany’s necklace.

All great experiences. I love surprises with friends.

In business I strive not to surprise anyone I work with (competitors I like to surprise)– not with news I think they don’t want to hear, nor with news I think they do want to hear. When I figure out how to involve teammates with information or decisions I often think the words

No surprises

and it guides me to better outcomes, though sometimes challenging processes.

Business opportunities and deals come and go. Relationships last, or they can, at least, if you keep them effective. Not surprising people keeps them wanting to work with you. I don’t find surprising people helps keep business relationships effective.

Not surprising people means telling them what you know and can share with them as soon as you can so that they know what you know. If a decision affects someone I do business with, I try to involve them in the decision-making process or, if I can’t, at least to tell them about the decision as soon as I know it affects them.

If I have a meeting with more than one person with information that could surprise any of them, I do my best to share that information with each of them one on one before the meeting. The same goes with the agenda and what I plan to get out of the meeting. I don’t consider the meeting time for surprises or for individuals to learn. They can do that without using other people’s time. I consider meetings time for teamwork.

I don’t like ambushing or being ambushed. Movies and TV like drama so they create situations where someone fires someone or takes over their company suddenly so viewers can see the actors’ dramatic reaction. I suspect these media portrayals make some people think business happens that way. It can, but I would expect those practices to be ineffective and to destroy relationships, teams, and companies.

If I don’t like someone’s behavior and it affects me, I try to tell them as soon as I can. If someone’s behavior merits firing, circumstances beyond our control might force laying them off, or a similar change, I try to tell them before it gets to that point to give them time to change, prepare, or react.

Some situations lead to surprises — like how the public responds to a product launch — but that surprise doesn’t come from me. It comes from the outside world.

They are the one time I consider it okay to surprise someone: if something surprises me, like I hear unexpected information before anyone else. Then I tell the people it affects as soon as I can, beginning with something like “I have some surprising information. I don’t like surprising anyone in business, but it surprised me too. I’m telling you as soon as I can.”

This principle means taking responsibility for sharing information and involving people in decisions. It builds teamwork and dependability. It can be hard at times because it forces you to share information with people and involve them even for things you feel ashamed about sharing.

Actually, it motivates you away from behavior you might feel guilt or shame for, and to be aware of it. Usually feeling guilt and shame imply you did something counterproductive in business, so following this principle keeps me effective.

Why did I start this practice?

I learned the practice this principle through experience — through making “executive” decisions alone I later regretted, realizing involving the affected people earlier would have improved the decisions. Things you don’t know how to share and would just rather get out of the way, if they affect others, tend to be the things you least want others to know about, yet will affect your relationships most. Deciding without them sounds easiest, but if it affects them, they’ll find out eventually.

I find following this principle improves my relationships and keeps myself from getting stuck in such situations by forcing me to involve others as early as I can. It also helps me share such information dispassionately.


Since I started following this principle, I’ve found guilt, shame, hoarding information, and difficult decisions that strain relationships have decreased in favor of open communication, teamwork, and shared decision-making processes that build relationships.

I try also to share this principle with others so that they learn to practice it with me. I don’t brag. When I share information or a decision difficult to share, I don’t just tell them the information or involve them in the decision-making process. I also tell them it’s difficult to share so they know it didn’t come easily and so next time they have information or decisions affecting me they might prefer hiding they know I didn’t hide, which I expect will motivate them to share with me.

I let them know I value our relationship so they can too.

Tomorrow: another top principle for business relationships: “After the project, I want my teammates glad to work with me and wanting to work with me again

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4 responses on “One of my top principles for business relationships: No surprises

  1. Pingback: One of my top principles for business relationships: After the project, I want teammates glad to work with me and wanting to work with me again » Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: Surprises are for birthdays and competitors. Nothing else. | Joshua Spodek

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