Expectations-The Big Disconnect

One of the things I’ve learned from running events is to set expectations. If you’re going to provide coffee don’t run out of coffee – they expect it to be there. If you’re not going to provide coffee, that’s ok, as long as you let your attendees know.

The thing about expectations that is hard – very hard – is that if you don’t set them, the other person will. They may expect that since lunch was provided last year it will be provided this year. They may expect polished presentations or cookies during the afternoon break. They may expect that you’ll move them through check-in quickly. Is that fair?

I run into cases at work all the time where something or someone didn’t meet my expectations. Whose fault is that?

I wonder how often I don’t meet the expectations of someone else?

Expectations are everywhere. For example right now I expect that if I submit my invoice on Monday I’ll see the deposit on Thursday. That’s how it has worked for many months. I also expect that if it changes I’ll be told, that I won’t have to ask. I’ve set both of those expectations does the client agree with those expectations? Or even know about them?

Part of getting this right is to think about what we would expect if the roles were reversed. That’s not perfect, but it’s a major step in the right direction. Just remember it’s not perfect, we don’t all see the world the same way.

I listen for the cues and clues in conversation that may indicate a disconnect. It’s both disconcerting and exciting when you realize it’s happened. Why exciting? Because now you can fix it! It may mean explaining why you do things a certain way, or understanding why doing it their way may make it better, or just both sides learning that it was an unfortunate miss that can perhaps be avoided the next time. Note: it really helps if both sides listen, the clues aren’t always obvious.

More and more I see this as the source of pain at work. I’m not always able to fix it. Getting someone to listen to your expectations means that you’re also telling them, indirectly at least, that they have failed. That message is hard to process and most of us fall back into defense,blaming you for the incorrect (from our view) expectation instead of thinking…yes,I see why you set that expectation.

I think we have to set expectations if no one else does. Sometimes we’ll get it right, sometimes we won’t. I find life a little less frustrating when I realize that someone else failed to meet an expectation I never told them about.