I stopped having hangovers induced by alcohol about 13 years ago. What I suffer from periodically, though, are the ones brought on by expectations. I was warned about them. I was told to beware of setting unrealistic expectations – that they could be the silent suckers of joy and fulfillment from my thought patterns. After all, as leaders, don’t we need to set expectations for ourselves and our teams in order to develop goals towards reaching our desired outcomes?
So what’s the difference between the good types of expectations and the nasty, detrimental ones?
There are two definitions of expectations when you look it up. The first one is: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. The second one that pops up is: a belief that someone will or should achieve something. Ahhh… there’s that sucker. SHOULD. The root cause of judgement that leads to disappointment, bewilderment, and frustration. We set those types of expectations and then should all over ourselves and everyone else when they aren’t realized. Having a strong belief that something will happen or will be the case in the future is one thing. We lose our way when we add the component that we or someone else should have or will do it.
Root causes of an expectation hangover
- Failing to negotiate your expectations with others. This can lead to some disappointing outcomes. Does this conversation sound familiar:
Joe: “What did you expect?”
Sarah: “For them to recognize the hard work I have put in and the value I bring.”
Joe: “How did you want them to recognize that?”
Sarah: “I don’t know. By paying me more money. By saying thank you. By recognizing me at the company meeting last week.”
Joe: “Before you put in the work did you let them know what you expected?”
Sarah: “No. They should know to do the right thing.”
Yep. People should just know what we want and how we want it. Sounds ridiculous in black and white, doesn’t it? We do it all the time, though.
- Setting unrealistic expectations. By avoiding research, discussion, and thorough investigation of the current reality we then set expectations as to outcomes that may not remotely be possible to achieve. We wish things could be true instead of designing our expectations around proven facts and data. Throwing our future down a wishing well is no way to achieve anything of worth. Expecting people to be perfect or to act or be like you is a recipe for frustration. Perhaps you can remember a time when someone set expectations for you that you felt like were not realistic. How did that turn out?
This short video (about 1:42) made me laugh out loud about what we expect when we ask for something at work: https://youtu.be/lAc6WvJH25U
If you have ever traveled to one of the “world’s wonders” this video might bring some laughs, and memories, about what you expected vs the reality of what you saw when you got there. https://youtu.be/gWXJ986wqOY
- Moving the expectation needle. Maybe you are good at clearly communicating expectations for yourself and others. What might derail the expectation train is when the initial expectations are modified and never communicated to the other party. This can easily happen when situations change and trust begins to erode. Rather than revisiting the renegotiation or resetting expectations based on the new set of circumstances we operate with the old game plan and BAM! our expectations aren’t met because they changed and we didn’t tell anyone. This can be highly frustrating for your top performers. They want to exceed our expectations yet every time they do a great job we expect an even better one in the future. What expectations have you tried to meet only to find out that they changed somewhere along the path?
Setting clear, realistic expectations for ourselves and others can lead to some pretty spectacular outcomes at work. To do it well we need to:
- Have conversations, at the beginning of any project or process in which both parties feel safe expressing their desired outcomes and concerns for reaching those.
- Stair step expectations so that both parties can measure and monitor their progress along the way. Remember that potential equals the sum of your skills + your resources + your behaviors. Which of these needs to increase in order to reach a higher level of expectation than the current reality you are experiencing?
- Recognize when expectations are met and celebrate having reached them in order to build on the bright spots moving forward.
TEAM EXERCISE THIS WEEK:
At your team meeting this week asking this question may help to uncover some hidden expectations that failed to occur: What did you expect to happen last week that didn’t?