Surprises – a Recipe for Unrest?

Many of the things we might refer to as surprises are really just unexpected incidents. Events that truly rise to the level of surprise are those that astonish us to some degree, that sweep us off our mental track for more than a moment. For some, this is a giddy thrill, a delightful transport to wonder and discovery. For others, it can feel like a destabilization, something that causes them to lose equilibrium and focus. It can even induce anxiety and stress.

Our personality type can affect how we react to surprise. Some people like a surprise party, while others prefer to know plans in advance. To see who doesn’t like being a party to surprise, we asked if people agreed with the statement “you really don’t like surprises, even if they are for your birthday.” No Trait, Role, or Strategy could bring themselves to a majority agreeing with the statement, but a few individual types did. To see who the more concerned holdouts were, let’s look at the data:

Roles

Analysts (42%)

Analysts may be more surprise-averse because of their fondness for classifying the world around them. Unknown things are a challenge to master, but unexpected things might rattle their perceptions a little. Within this Role (and in others, as will be discussed), we see a correlation of the Thinking trait to agreement with the statement. It may be that Thinking personality types, while appreciating the intent behind surprise gifts and gestures, do not get the same enjoyable emotional response as Feeling types.

The type to agree most and, therefore, to be least fond of surprises, was the Assertive Architect (INTJ-A) (61%), who may very well prefer to plan as much of their lives as possible, rather than have things thrust upon them. Like their namesake, Architects rarely enjoy having others scribble over their carefully laid work, and they may struggle to release themselves into silly, carefree fun without prior notice.

Sentinels (40%)

This role shows a similar response to Analysts, with the Judging trait correlating to a lower overall response. Judging personality types, Sentinels very much included, often prefer a little more predictability than surprise. A sense that they are in control is important to them. Sentinels may feel that with their adeptness at efficient accomplishment, they would benefit more from contributing to outcomes that affect them, rather than dealing with an unknown. They didn’t disagree, though – surprises, from unexpected birthday parties to office pranks, are often proud traditions and symbols of friendship. While they may catch Sentinels off guard, they are rarely truly unwelcome.

Explorers (32%)

This Prospecting Role tends to be more flexible and carefree, genuine appreciators of entertainment and fun, and this may explain why they report more enjoyment of surprises. Explorers like to experiment and experience, and might be a little more tolerant of the unexpected in that pursuit. Rather than sit down and plan things, they often enjoy jumping in, which can certainly produce surprising results.

Diplomats (28%)

While still evidencing the divide related to the Tactics aspect, the Diplomats showed the lowest overall agreement. Their socially-oriented mindset and deep appreciation for camaraderie and friendship may increase their appreciation for gestures from others, including surprises. Their emotional sensitivity might cause them to feel a pleasant thrill from the unexpected. They may view surprises as a true sign of affection; whoever planned a surprise was thinking of them, and cared enough to follow through. Few things are as warming to Diplomats as knowing they have a friend even when they’re not around.

The personality type agreeing least was the Assertive Campaigner (ENFP-A) (17%). These types tend to be upbeat and always ready to enjoy unexpected fun, epitomizing the joyous spirit for which Diplomats strive.

Strategies

Confident Individualism (48%)

The Confident Individualism Strategy shows a significant minority of agreement, the closest any Strategy (or Role) comes to agreeing with the statement in the majority. Introversion correlates very strongly to more agreement (45% vs. 25% of Extraverts). Anything sudden, dynamic, or intense could be unpleasant to these types, who tend to be sensitive to external energy, and especially to attention (and even more especially to group attention). Introverts can be stressed by social interactions in general, and adding surprise to the mix may increase this stress. Confident Individualists combine this aversion to surprise with the imperturbability of their Assertive trait, allowing them to be firm in their preferences.

Constant Improvement (44%)

This strategy shares the Introverted aversion to surprise. Perhaps the sheer stimulation of surprises is unpleasant to them, but these types are also deeply private individuals, often shying from any attention at all, good or bad. Not only do they value personal space and control, but the stress of unpredictability might affect them emotionally as well. Yet one of the sometimes unexpected features of the Turbulent trait is, if not an enjoyment of risk, excitement, and surprise, then at least a tendency to seek out thrills anyways. Like with the Diplomats, it can be reassuring for Constant Improvers to know that others like them enough to try to make them feel special, even if they don’t necessarily want the attention directly.

Social Engagement (26%)

This Extraverted strategy agreed less than either Introverted Strategy, indicating that they are more open to surprises in their lives. While still having some of the stress-sensitivity associated with the Turbulent identity, they have a broad appreciation for social interactions, and for stimulation. People bringing surprises aren’t automatically regarded as unpleasant, allowing positive surprises to be enjoyed for what they are.

People Mastery (24%)

People Masters agreed the least of any Strategy, revealing themselves as most open to surprise. They not only have a socially bold mindset with their Extraversion, they stride confidently into exciting experiences with their Assertive trait. If such rousing events come from others, then the social aspect only makes it more fun for them. They may get a charge out of the unexpected, especially in the company of friends who think enough of them to go to the bother. The stimulation of surprise is more rewarding to them than stressful, and can feed their sense of adventure and excitement.

Conclusions

Some don’t feel invigorated by the unexpected – they feel assaulted by it. They appreciate smooth transitions and periods of adjustment instead of sudden change. Types who value logic, organization, and predictability reported less enjoyment of surprise. A little time to reevaluate events is very much appreciated by these personality types – rapidly reordering a carefully crafted universe can be unpleasant for them. This doesn’t need to stem from a lack of confidence though: these types often value control because they have confidence in their own sensible plans and desires.

Others, particularly those more outgoing personality types, are resilient to the stimulation of surprise, and seek even more exciting things. They appreciate not only the intent behind surprises, but also the experience of reacting to the event.

Still others like to experience the world through their emotions, and the exquisitely satisfying excitement of a friendly surprise is the height of fun. These personality types may readily adapt to the unexpected, spontaneous arrival of events, and be happy to have surprises around every corner, if for no other reason than to enjoy that they’re on someone’s mind.

How about you? What is it about surprises that you like – or don’t?

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

5 months ago
It took a long time, but slowly my family starts to understand that they should give me either nothing at all or something from my (usually very short) wishlist instead of some surprise gift. Presents are basically just a delay for me to get something, because instead of buying it myself, I write some things on the list so that the people who definitely want to give something to me have something. Half of the stuff in my room were gifts (from the last 20 years) and I slowly but surely get rid of them. When someone gives me a surprise gift, there's a 90% chance that I won't like it. INTJ-A
Nagareru-eludo
2 years ago
INTJ: Yes this is very true! On my birthday I reveived a surprise party and I wasn't thrilled about it overall. I had planned something in advance so it all became a mess...
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