Every day, from the time we wake up and our feet hit the floor, we are managing expectations. Expectations others have of us. And, expectations we have of them.
Underlying expectations are needs. You have a core human need to be of value to the people with whom you live and work. You have a need to be successful in your work and in your life. Others share this need.
We all want to bring our best forward.
For each of us to do our best, we need to know what’s expected of us. When we know, we’re liberated from second-guessing. We become able and energized to move forward on course.
Every organization on earth is marching to the drumbeat of change, change, and more change. In this volatile climate, expectations are more critical than ever. When they have clarity around what’s needed and expected, people are empowered to plug in and contribute.
They know the playing field and have the parameters to do their best work.
We all have needs and expectations and unique approaches to getting them satisfied. Some of those approaches are more effective than others in preserving trust in our relationships. When expectations aren’t managed well, trust often takes a hit.
The person whose needs weren’t met may lose confidence in the person who didn’t deliver…or in her own ability to delegate.
The person who fell short may begin to doubt in his skills and abilities…or in the ability of his leader, who may have failed to make expectations clear.
All around, unmet expectations carry the risk of eroding trust and compromising the health of the relationship.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve rolled up your sleeves, given your best effort…yet discovered your deliverable wasn’t on course? That there was a different set of expectations of which you weren’t aware?
Or, have you ever found yourself disappointed or let down because your expectations of others weren’t met?
Crossed signals like this happen all the time. It’s for easy for expectations to be missed. In the haste and pace of life, we may not have been as clear as we thought. Or, we may not be fully aware of the ambiguity of our expectations…until they have not been met.
Why are missed expectations important for us to pay attention to?
Because when we meet and exceed expectations, we build trust in our character. We become that person who is reliable. Dependable. A person others can rely on.
When expectations are met, everything becomes easier. There is a natural flow. Collaboration flourishes. People work naturally together. Everyone can step up, and trusting relationships flourish.
When they are not met? Things become harder. Trust and relationships become strained. People struggle. Our trust of character comes into question.
So what can you do?
Below are 4 questions designed to support you to preserve trust through managing expectations effectively:
1. Have I made my expectations explicit?
The majority of the time expectations aren’t met, it’s because from the beginning, they’ve not been made clear. You may have thought you were clear. Your message may have been clear to you, and you may have assumed it was clear to others. Yet, you’re disappointed when people don’t come through as expected.
The primary reason needs aren’t made clear is that they’re embedded with implicit assumptions that weren’t understood.
Assumptions are unspoken and undocumented ideas. We all have them. It’s natural for us have them. They’re a product of cultural conventions and traditions, as well as individual norms and past experiences. When checked out, they can serve us well.
When we don’t check them out? Our assumptions can get in our way. Expectations built on unvoiced assumptions are at risk of not being understood or met.
How can you minimize this risk?
Make the implicit explicit. If you don’t have a fully formed set of expectations, share what you do see. Paint a picture of the landscape in your mind, the needs you know you have – or – the needs you’ve identified for a project or deliverable.
Then check for understanding. I’ve have found it very helpful to ask people to review with me their understanding of what I’ve asked. To play it back for me. Only then can I see how clear I have been and spot areas where I may not have been clear – or where our understanding of the effort are not aligned.
Your commitment to your relationships warrants you to check out the other person’s understanding. It’s in the favor of trust building to identify lack of clarity before expectations have been missed.
2. Are my expectations realistic?
It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of what could be – but it’s vital to not lose sight of what actually can be.
Be thoughtful and considerate of the big picture. Know that others are likely holding and carrying a lot. You aren’t the only one whose expectations they’re trying to meet!
And, there may be more to your request than you’re aware of. More work effort required. More investment of resources than you’d imagine. Or, the timing could just be off, when considering the ‘whole.’ I invite you to invest time to understand the impact of your expectations. Ask people if what you’re asking for is reasonable and doable – if it’s realistic.
It’s okay for people to be stretched, in a healthy way. To have stretch goals and a vision for the future. But, if they foresee real obstacles to reaching those goals and actualizing that vision, you need to know the truth.
Trust is reciprocal. We can have an expectation. But to support that expectation being met, ask, how realistic is this? You build trust with others when you pay attention to, honor, and ask what it will really take for them to help you achieve a vision or goal.
To encourage honesty, extend compassion and listen with an open mind and open heart. Express appreciation for other’s perspectives and input.
3. Is there an established feedback loop?
After you take steps to make sure your expectations are clear and realistic, consider, how can you support the other person to meet your needs if the unexpected occurs?
What feedback loop will support continuous communication and creative problem solving? How can you best check in with one another and keep one another up to speed? It may be that a weekly status update is appropriate. Or, if one or both of you foresee or encounter significant obstacles, a daily brainstorming session may be what’s needed.
Continuous feedback will help you stay aligned in your understanding of what’s needed, in real time.
4. How will expectations be renegotiated?
If the unexpected occurs, and your expectations can’t be met, what’s supposed to happen? How will you work together to renegotiate?
Right up front, make a few agreements about how expectations will be managed.
You may not have a ‘Plan B’ at first, but keeping the feedback loop open can allow you to work creatively. Together, you can either shift expectations or identify an alternate path forward to meeting them.
Particularly when the stakes are high, brainstorm a few ideas to have ‘in your pocket’ in case your needs don’t get met. Consider, if the other person is not able to meet your expectations, how could you still move forward?
Yours in trust,