When my wife and I were first married, we went to meet with a counselor to learn some strategies for improving our relationship. I will never forget his advice after hearing both of us talk about our challenges.
He said, “You both need to do a better job of managing your ‘expect-or’.” Never having heard the term before, I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”
He quickly replied, “Life is a lot easier if you don’t have any expectations.”
Just as quickly, I vehemently disagreed. I thought, “How can you be in relationship with someone and not have any expectations?”
Since that time, I have learned that what our counselor said was true. I have discovered that many of our personal and professional frustrations stem from violated expectations, particularly those which we have not clearly identified or communicated to others.
Here are a number of expectations that may create problems in your working relationships with others if you are not giving them your attention.
1. Expectation of awareness
Often we don’t realize that we haven’t identified our expectations, nor have we distinctly communicated them, until we get different results than what we expected. When this happens, it is necessary to take a look at what we expected and determine if we clearly communicated our desires.
If you are in doubt, then you have no one to blame for your unmet expectations but yourself. We assume that others are aware of what we expect, but often they aren’t. Sometimes we become so busy or distracted that we fail to make others specifically aware of what we want.
2. Expectation that others read my mind
Because our thoughts and feelings about something seem obvious to us, we presume that they are to others as well. We figure if people know us and are tuned in, they should know what is needed without it being spelled out. Making these types of assumptions is a recipe for miscommunication and frustration.
3. Expectation of clear communication
When we take the time to tell people what we want, we suppose that they clearly understand what was communicated. Differences in communication style, life experience, education, age, various levels of authority, etc. mean that we might not understand each other in the same way. There are too many variables to assume understanding without being specific and allowing for clarifying questions.
4. Expectation of similar performance
We each have a level of performance and ability we are accustomed to achieving. It is common to expect people to perform exactly the way that we would. If you haven’t clearly explained how something should be done, you can’t assume that others will do it the way that you would.
5. Expectation of job satisfaction
Attaining job satisfaction rests with both the manager and the employee. Each is dependent upon the other to meet their expectations. The manager has the responsibility to meet the expectations of the employee. The employee is also required to meet the expectations of the manager.
If neither party has ever explored one another’s expectations, then it is entirely possible that neither party’s expectations will ever be met. So much for job satisfaction.
6. Expectation of engagement
Managers may expect employees to take responsibility for improving their engagement, while employees may expect that managers will take responsibility for their disengagement. When this happens, each party may be silently waiting for the other to meet their expectations. Meanwhile, nothing happens.
7. Expectation of infallibility
We would like to think that we are above making missteps. Because we are all different, you can trust that your expectations will be violated, plus you will sometimes not meet someone else’s expectations. The likelihood of difficulties will dramatically decrease as we discuss our expectations of others. Expectations are often held, but not communicated. Therein lies the problem.
8. Expectation of competence
Because we assume that no news is good news, we expect that the absence of negative feedback means that we are doing a good job or that our manager is satisfied with our performance. We may also assume if we don’t hear about problems from our direct reports, that all is well. Given that people are generally afraid to talk about what matters most, if you want feedback, you had better ask for it. If you don’t ask, you may never know.
9. Expectation of vision
You can’t expect that people want the same things or want to achieve the same goals. Working on the same project or having specific goals does not mean that both parties hold a mutual vision or purpose. The vision needs to be clearly identified and both parties need to understand how each contributes to the achievement of the mutual goal.
10. Expectation of why
Just because your expectations are clear doesn’t mean that people will understand the reasons behind what you are asking them to do. You want to be clear about the why to increase motivation and expand another’s purpose.
11. Expectation of priorities
You can’t expect others to know your priorities nor can you expect to know another’s priorities if you haven’t clearly communicated. Knowing how frequently they change, it is important to revisit priorities frequently if you expect your efforts to contribute to the desired results.
12. Expectation of need
We often presume to know what others need based on our expectations and experiences. If we don’t communicate with them, we may not be supporting them in the areas they need to achieve our expectations. Failure to meet an individual’s needs in areas such as resources, support, education and development may limit their success.
13. Expectation of feedback
Whether you are a leader, manager or employee, you generally cannot expect people to give you unsolicited feedback. Often the higher up the organization you are, the more difficult it is for people to want to provide feedback. So if you want feedback, you need to ask for it. When you receive it, listen for factual specifics or examples, and if you don’t get any, then you need to ask. Feedback is often hard to come by, so when you receive it, be grateful and express appreciation, then look for actionable items that can help you improve.
These are some examples of the kinds of expectations that may limit our success. Taking the time to clearly identify your expectations, communicate them to others and check that you have been understood will improve your relationships and your ability to achieve the desired results.
John R. Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc. His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.