We all have expectations, although perhaps we should not. Expectations that are not met can result in us being disappointed. A friend of mine states, “Expect Nothing, and you won’t be disappointed!” (Credit to Jennifer; last name omitted to protect the guilty!) But what are expectations? Perhaps it is best to have a common definition of the word before going any further in the discussion.
The dictionary defines expectation as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future,” and “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” I find that these definitions clarify what can be the problem with expectations.
If we have a strong belief that something will happen, and it doesn’t, and especially if that “something” is desirable, we can easily become disappointed. If our expectation is based upon what we think someone else should or will do and they do not, it is easy to see why we might be disappointed.
Where do expectations come from? In some cases, past experience. In some cases, our desires. And in some cases, our upbringing. We can likely all think of an example of each one of these. In many cases, our expectations are not bad, they just can be counterproductive to good relationships, creating misunderstandings. Just the word itself, “expectation,” creates a mindset of what someone else “should” do, and when they fail to, many emotions can be triggered, including disappointment and even anger.
We may expect our spouse to understand our feelings about something in particular, knowing we have made our wishes about that well known. Unfortunately, we are not them and they are not us. It is too easy for someone to forget what we think should be very clear to them, for we are operating from our frame of reference, and they are operating from theirs. Our differences in perspective, personality, gender, and even other differences can affect how we deal with expectations.
Consider the workplace. If I am a workaholic, I may (subconsciously even) expect others to have the same work ethic or work behavior that I have. If one of my direct reports has a more balanced work ethic, preferring to spend more time with family than being a workaholic allows, our different work standard may create challenges for us.
Any expectations that are non-negotiable should be in writing. I remember a job opportunity my husband was considering years ago. There was an expectation that he work not just 40 plus hours a week, but every Saturday also. Now, he has always worked many more than forty hours a week and would certainly work Saturdays if the job needed it, but the expectation that he work every Saturday told him something about the culture that did not fit for him, and it wasn’t about the expected hours.
We can avoid conflict with family members, especially our adult children if we do not expect them to see and do things as we do. While I would prefer a phone call from our adult daughters once a week to just “check in,” I do not expect it. I do not even express my desire for such, for why would I invite conflict?! Enough said, for I believe my experience in this area is not uncommon.
There are simple ways to manage expectations, avoiding the negative emotions that can result when they are not met. These are simple, but not necessarily easy. I hope that the difference in simple and easy is clear, for if not, there can be even more disappointments!
In managing expectations, it is best to have few expectations to begin with. It is best to have expectations of ourselves, not of others. We should work harder on making sure that our behavior is what it should be and be forgiving of others when their behavior isn’t what we expect or desire.
This does not mean letting people off of the hook of what they really should do, especially in the workplace. Work requirements (you may even refer to them as expectations) should be clear, and if they are critical or even very important, they should be in writing whenever possible. Do not leave these open to different interpretations. Communicate them clearly and reinforce them (without being a micromanager) often. To increase the likelihood that they will be understood and followed, communicate them based upon the other person’s personality, not yours. (You can find more information about communicating and managing to personality in my other writings on www.fralixgroup.com.) This is even more important now than ever before due to the four generations working together, all with various differences.
Our expectation of our self to do our best work and be our best self is positive and good. All other expectations should be evaluated and maybe even discarded on the trash pile of woulda coulda shoulda!