Setting expectations that are clear to us are often not sufficient. In fact, we find that people who are very competent at what they do are the poorest at setting successful expectations for others. If the giver has a picture of the outcome that is different from the receiving person, expectations will likely not be met fully. “Any professional should know you don’t do ___ (fill in the blank)” is often the refrain from the person who set poor expectations for others. They did not fill in the blank for the other person.
Caring Husband Example
A caring husband saw that his wife was busy in the kitchen and offered to help.
“What can I do to help you?” he asked.
She replied, “Take this bag of potatoes, peel half of them and put them in the big pot to cook.“
When he peeled half of each potato, she was shocked.
I like this example because it reflects missed expectations with the best of intentions. The meaning is so clear to the wife and yet misunderstood by the husband. So who is responsible for the misunderstood expectations? Often the wife will be angry because the husband was incompetent in the kitchen. The husband would argue that he was just trying to help and did what he thought she wanted.
This example is overly simple, but similar situations occur all the time. Well-intentioned subordinates (or others) do their best at what they think is wanted and have the wrong picture in their mind of the end result. Other times, the giver of the of the expectation did not accurately say what they wanted, or was very general. The subordinate might say, “It didn’t make sense, but that is what she said she wanted.” The cost of unclear expectations is very high.
So Who Is to Blame?
That is clearly the wrong question. However, the expectation setter is the most responsible for clear expectations. It is the responsibility for the other person to confirm and clarify the expectation. In almost all cases, more time needs to be spent by both parties to clarify expectations in order to avoid waste and wrong outcomes.
Relationship Impact on Expectations
There needs to be the desire to meet the expectations for the optimal results. Therefore, positive and trusted relationships contribute strongly to aligned expectations. Clear consequences for failure to meet expectations are also important.
For those of us who have raised teenagers, or dealt with contentious unions, we know that a desire to meet our expectations may not be the context in which our expectations are received.
Sometimes one person in the conversation may be looking for any ambiguity in the expectations as a way of avoiding what is being asked for. It raises the bar on how clear and measurable exceptions and consequences need to be.
More Information on Expectations
Effective expectation setting is a critical part of leadership and executive presence. Chapter 5 of “Seeing Yourself as Others Do – Authentic Executive Presence at Any Stage of Your Career”
Our product pipeline also includes a video series on how to set and achieve expectations. Let us know if that is something you would like us to move up on the priority list.