How clear are your expectations?

Photo courtesy of Russell James Smith (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Russell James Smith (Creative Commons)

Whether we consciously set them or not, we have expectations in pretty much anything we set out to do. And whether or not our activities either alone or with others meet those expectations can lead to happiness or frustration.

If I travel downtown during rush hour or before a big event, I expect to run into more traffic. When I don’t or when the wait is less than I thought it would be, what a treat!

One of the keys to a more satisfying life is to be more aware of those expectations and direct them more intentionally.

When I have managed people and done performance reviews, we typically measure their performance using a scale such as “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “needs improvement,” or “failing miserably” (ok, not really but you know what I mean).

The problems arise when those expectations are not clearly defined so that both parties understand without confusion what is expected. Fuzzy expectations set you up for failure.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say a supervisor expects a team member to perform a particular task on a regular basis. In the supervisor’s mind, “regular” means weekly. But the only instruction given to the team member is that they need to perform this task “regularly.” To the team member, that might mean every couple of weeks or monthly. What do you think will happen at review time? Is it fair to downgrade that team member’s performance because it did not meet the supervisor’s expectations?

Poorly defined expectations can lead to all sorts of conflict and frustration between coworkers, friends, spouses, parents and children. And clear expectations can lead to a more positive experience.

I have even noticed simple things can be better if the expectations are set out right to begin with. Even something like running can be improved with the right expectations in mind. When I know that conditions are not ideal and it is cold or raining or windy, I set out on my run knowing that it will be a challenge. I have a much better run than when I start out thinking it will be easy, and then run into problems.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we are vague on what we expect, or when we have unrealistic expectations. It’s winter, it’s cold, and I will be continually disappointed if I expect to be warm when I run outside.

Are you setting yourself or someone else up for failure by not giving clear expectations?

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