“In No Uncertain Terms”

Humans play some pretty funny and ridiculous games. We all know this. We all do this.

Everyone has expectations both of themselves and of other people. We do this all the time. We have expectations of our friends, our family, our co-workers, and even people we have never even met (think stereotypes).

Sometimes, these expectations are based in reality and forged from a track record of a person’s behavior.

Sometimes, these expectations are completely nonsensical.

We do this sort of thing all of the time in many different cases. I am sure that all 3 of you reading this right now can think of a case in which you have formed completely unrealistic expectations of someone in your life.

What happens when people don’t “live up” to our expectations? That’s an interesting question. It sort of depends on whether or not our expectations are based in reality. It also depends on whether or not the people for which we hold the expectation actually KNOW that we expect whatever it is that we are expecting from them!

In many cases, the outcome of someone not meeting your expectation (realistic or not) might be the same; disappointment, anger, frustration, etc. The way in which we actually address it with the person, however, depends on our personality, and can be very different.

Let’s take the example of an expectation based in reality.

Worker A is good at job X. Job X is always done well and on time. Worker A’s boss comes to expect that “job x” will always been done well and on time. This is an expectation that is based in reality and formed from A’s repeated demonstrated competency at “job x”.

Now let’s looks at an example of an expectation that was formed completely in one’s own little fantasy cerebral world.

A’s boss decides to give A a new task at which A has no experience with or prior knowledge of. Let’s call this “job y”. Worker A isn’t so good at job y. For the first few weeks, he’s a little bit rocky with getting it done and his boss isn’t too happy. What happened here? One thing might be that A’s boss auto-magically assumed the expectation that because A was good at job x, he’d be awesome at job y. Can you get mad at worker A for this? Maybe, but did A’s boss stop and think about A’s experience or whether or not this would be an ideal task? People have to do things they don’t like or are not good at all the time. What is really important here is the expectation that A’s boss has when assigning the task. I can think of two options:

  1. Expectation: A is going to be awesome at this right away. Result: almost certain disappointment and anger with A for not being awesome at the job right away.
  2. Expectation: A might not be so great at this right away, but he will get it eventually. Look how good he is at “job x”! It’s only a matter of time. Result: No disappointment, no anger. Why? Because A’s boss looked at the situation from a realistic perspective.

What would happen if A’s boss said “Look A, I have job y for you. You might not be stellar at it right away, but I know you can get it. Just give it your best shot!”. I think A would have a great attitude about trying this task out. Compare that to A’s boss saying “Here’s job y, have it on my desk by this afternoon.”. How do you think that make’s A feel? Rushed, hurried, panicked, are a few ideas that come to mind. How you ask someone to do something conveys your expectation of them.

Even worse, what if A’s boss just decides to drop “job y” on A and assume the expectation that he will just get it done. While flattering, what happens when he doesn’t?

What if A’s boss blatantly said “I have this expectation of you and I would really like for you to make sure it’s done” rather than HOPING that A just somehow “gets” that they should be doing this or that? That would most likely lead to a discussion where A would either say “yes, I can do that”, or “nope, not happening”.  At this point, you need to update your expectation with this new information. Is A willing to do what you have now actually asked for? If so, great, keep the expectation. If not, well, then you need to discard it as continuing to hold on to that will now only be worse.

Tell people what you want and what you expect in no uncertain terms. This is the only way in which an exchange like this is healthy. Then next time you become angry, frustrated, or annoyed with someone for not meeting an expectation that you have, think about it. Do they KNOW that you have this expectation of them? Have you flat out told them that this is what you are expecting? If not, your negative emotions are unfounded and not based in reality. If you have made your expectations clear and the person is just not meeting them, that’s a different story.

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