“No Negative Surprises”

Mark Gavagan
2 min readOct 15, 2022

It’s a simple, powerful rule that always works well.

“Surprise!” Photo by Erda Estremera, via Unsplash

It means making sure people are aware, upfront, of negative things that might happen and how likely they are to occur.

Perfection isn’t the standard here, and it doesn’t require an exhaustive list of every remote possibility that might be even slightly negative.

Use your best judgement of what’s noteworthy or important to be aware of, in order to make a good decision.

It requires anticipation and clear, forthright communication, so everyone understands possible downsides (and their likelihoods & consequences), before choosing something.

This does not mean bad things won’t happen or cause pain and anguish when they do.

But when bad things occur that have been clearly* disclosed upfront, those experiencing them aren’t (or shouldn’t be) also feeling deceived or cheated.

* Clear disclosure doesn’t mean hiding something on page 27 in six-point font. It means highlighting the potentially negative item in plain language, such that it’s likely to be observed and understood, prior to any agreement.

Sometimes clear disclosure will blow-up a deal, but if a deal only works when the truth is hidden or obscured, it wasn’t an honest deal in the first place.

Positive Surprises Welcome

Positive surprises, even small ones, can build your brand and cement loyalty for decades to come.

Point of View

Try to be sure you are basing this on the point of view of the person(s) who will be getting surprised.

If I like dogs and you, an avid cat person, open an unexpected box from me that reveals a puppy, you will probably see that as a negative surprise (unless it’s the puppy in the photo above by Erda Estremera).