A Lesson in Poor Communication
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Communications should be planned and thoughtful. Rarely – if ever – should a serious message be delivered without warning.
On the surface, a surprise marriage proposal seems like a good idea. That’s what Yashraj Chhabra, a Melbourne resident, thought when he devised a plan to propose to his girlfriend, Riya Shukla, at the airport in Auckland, Australia, when she flew in from New Zealand.
Chhabra arranged for members of both families to be at the airport. His proposal was played on the airport’s PA system.
He proposed in front of family members holding a sign saying, “Will you marry me?”
Fortunately, she said “yes.”
What’s the problem?
Surprise marriage proposals are often reflective of serious communication issues. Here are some points to consider.
Does the surprise nature of the proposal have a coercive effect on the other person? Will they feel obligated to say “yes” to avoid embarrassment?
The nature of the proposal ignores the feelings of the other person. Would they want the opportunity to dress appropriately for the occasion before such a public display?
Is the concept of a proposal, where the man “pops” the question, reflective of an antiquated gender tradition in the U.S.?
According to Stephanie Coontz, a professor of marriage and family history at Evergreen State College, “He makes this over-the-top attempt to show the woman that, even if we play things equally from here on out, in this, we will be traditional. There is no time to pause, discuss, call friends for their advice, and think it over. You just have to know.”
While well-intentioned, the surprise proposal ignores well-established differences in the perceptions of men and women.
In this thoughtful article in the Atlantic, Megan Garber noted the cultural forces shaping how women view the world: “...the demand that they be accommodating. That they be pleasing. That they capitulate to the feelings of others, and maintain a kind of sunny status quo – both in the immediate moment of a given social situation, and more broadly...”
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The surprise proposal ignores these cultural forces and may – inadvertently or otherwise – take advantage of them.
A better way
There’s a better way to propose, which applies to communication generally.
When my wife and I planned to get married, I initially defaulted to the traditional wedding plan, where family and friends would get together to celebrate the occasion. It was the second wedding for me and the first for her.
I was in route to Asia for a business trip. It was a very long flight. Suddenly, I had this unsettling thought. I never asked her what kind of wedding she wanted.
I called from Singapore and asked her.
We are both introverts. Her answer shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.
She told me the least appealing wedding was one where she would be the center of attention, like walking down an aisle with all eyes on her.
I followed up with, “What would be the perfect scenario?”
She said it would be just the two of us on a secluded beach in Hawaii, married by a justice of the peace.
I rearranged my trip to stop in Hawaii on the way back. She met me there. Our wedding took place in a little park overlooking a small, sandy beach in Maui. We added a guitarist who played Hawaiian songs quietly in the background. He brought his wife, who cried softly during the ceremony.
Our families weren’t happy, but they got over it.
That was more than 25 years ago. We still treasure those memories.
It wasn’t a surprise.
Dan trains executives and employees in the lessons based on the research in his latest book, Ask: How to Relate to Anyone. His digital marketing firm makes extensive use of artificial intelligence to help advisors increase their SEO rankings and improve their marketing and helps advisors integrate AI into their practices.
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