Great Expectations

I’ve been wondering if life might be a little easier if we had no expectations of each other.  It seems that almost all disagreements and divides come down to a sense that expectations are not met. But what is the cost of having no expectations?  And how do can we gain benefit from holding shared expectations?

We all have expectations.  We expect things from our children, our partners, our parents, our friends, our co-workers and our boss.  (Many of us have very high expectations of ourselves too, but that’s a topic for another time!) And they, in turn, have expectations of us.  The question is – are these expectations understood and aligned?  Not surprisingly, they usually aren’t.  And it’s this misunderstanding and misalignment that causes an enormous amount of pain and resistance.  We often feel that our expectations of others are very reasonable, but their expectations of us? Completely unreasonable!

Unrealistic expectations can be damaging.  I remember when my eldest child was about 6 years old, I was talking to the mother of a teenager.  She was telling me how she chose to ‘pick her battles’.  These included not creating a fuss when her teenage daughter grunted in response to her good morning greeting, and simply shutting the bedroom door when the bed was not made.  At the time, I found this incomprehensible.  With all honesty, although I nodded in agreement, internally I was telling myself ‘but that won’t happen with my son – he already makes his bed – I’m not going backwards!’.  

It’s all too common in the workplace.  There can be a significant divide between what managers believe are realistic expectations, and what team members believe are realistic expectations (and what team members believe are realistic expectations of each other).  
Although it’s tempting to give up, throw in the towel and expect nothing, what is the cost of psychologically ‘checking out’?    

Expectations are important.  They form the unwritten, psychological contracts that underpin our most important relationships.  Expectations are damaging when they are uni-directional, unclear, inflexible or constantly changing.  When set, communicated and managed openly, expectations build trust and commitment.  At home and at work, no person can achieve in isolation, and we need to rely on each other to achieve results, find meaning in our work/lives, and to feel well-being.

Healthy expectations are co-created. They require perspective-taking, a willingness to listen and a willingness to share our own needs.  So how can you set healthy expectations?

~ Speak up: We need to articulate our expectations, and link them to the values or goals that are important to us.

~ Listen: Be willing to hear the other person’s perspective on how reasonable your expectations are.

~ Perspective-taking: Ask questions to understand what others’ expectations are, and what values or goals are important to them.

~ Share the process: If an expectation still seems unreasonable, it’s often that we don’t feel equipped or empowered to meet it.  If your boss is asking you to meet what you think are unrealistic expectations, identify what support or training you would need to feel able to achieve these.

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