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How to manage expectations

Expectations. There are two ways they can shackle you and make your professional and personal lives far more difficult than they ever need to be.

By definition, an expectation is not an agreement between people; instead, expectations are beliefs that a certain outcome or event will happen.

Expectations are purely conjectured about what the future might hold, based upon strongly held assumptions.

So I started by stating that there are two ways that expectations can shackle’s time to delve deeper into each of them!

The first type of expectation is when you have expectations of others.

The second? Is when others heap expectations upon you.

Knowing each of these potential pitfalls, and more importantly how you can avoid them, is a life skill that will serve you well as you go through your day, from business to family and everything in between. Once you begin to recognize them, you’ll be surprised at how often throughout your day expectations are at play.

Managing Your Own Expectations

Once we understand that our own expectations are nothing more than our best guesses sculpted into theory. These best guesses are really (at their core) are deeply held opinions mixed up with a big dash of hope.

But we don’t need to fall prey to them!

3 Ways to Avoid Having Unrealistic Expectations

1. Never assume.

When in doubt, ask. Ask your friend, co-worker, child...ask what it is they want or need in any situation. It’s so easy to assume that your spouse is going to want their favourite meal for their birthday dinner. But really, they might just want to take a quiet bath.

It’s easy to assume your assistant knows exactly to whom you want your memo emailed, but they might send it to the wrong department. Save yourself time and effort; ask in advance.

2. Realize that removing expectations from your relationships, both personal and professional, is not only wise but kind.

Being misunderstood never feels good. Human beings, even the most hermit-y amongst us, really thrive on feeling that they are connected with others.

When expectations are projected onto others, the consequences can be very uncomfortable when the assumptions fail and they feel that they’ve not lived up to...well, expectations.

3. Enjoy what your life looks like today.

This isn’t about expectations of others; this is about having expectations of yourself.

All too often we compare ourselves to others and fall short in one way or another. Then roll in those fantasies and dreams that really are just expectations in disguise, “As soon as I get that raise, I’ll be happy.” “Once we’re married, I’ll feel content and like my life has really begun.” “All I need to be fulfilled is x, y, z.”

Nope. Revel in the day you have today. Don’t mistake expectations for goals. Goals are fabulous and as a business coach, I’m all for them; in contrast, expectations just make people feel bad.

3 Ways to Manage Other People's Expectations

A bit more difficult than managing our own expectations is managing other people's expectations of us. But you can do it, and it is absolutely worth investing your time and energy into.

How? By being proactive in key areas.

1. Communicate.

In business- Over-communicate. Communicate redundantly. Communicate like crazy. Let others know exactly what your boundaries are; when you’re available or not, your firm boundaries, where you are and are not flexible, your timetable, etc. Don’t leave anything up to chance.

In Life- It is just as important to over-communicate with others outside of work as inside. Just like you want to let others know what your boundaries are, what your plans are and your preferences, it is important to share all these things and more with your friends and family. If no one knows how to please you, then everyone loses.

If Aunt Betty knows when you are coming to visit and exactly how long you will stay, then she is less likely to anticipate you staying longer and feeling hurt when you leave.

2. Anticipate Problems.

In business- For big projects, sometimes it’s worth spending a few minutes “catastrophizing.” That is, imagining half a dozen worst-case scenarios and how they could occur. Then articulate to your team a few key points that ensure those scenarios do not happen.

In Life- This translates to non-business situations as well such as a family trip or home remodel.

3. Know the biases of others.

In business- Think about any common history or relationship you may have had with them; do they give you any clues as to their perspective? This likely speaks to how they are coming to the situation with preconceptions; preconceptions grease the wheels for expectations. In this scenario, you can use expectations as opportunities. Not only can you anticipate what they might expect, but you can also under-promise and over-deliver. Win-win!

In Life- Knowing where your friends and family stand on certain issues and their core beliefs can help you have compassion for and communicate better with them.

Show Expectations Who’s Boss

Once you understand the role of expectations in your everyday interactions, you’re well on your way. Remind yourself...goals are not the same as expectations! Goals are concrete based upon reality and facts, expectations are beliefs based upon hope and opinions.

You’ll feel empowered once you begin implementing these strategies, for both eliminating expectations of others, and for not allowing others to have expectations of you.

Having this understanding will enable you to mitigate and navigate expectations so that you manage them...not the other way around.

Now it's your turn-

In what ways have you seen unrealistic expectations hurt business and personal relationships? Pick just one strategy above to use to manage these expectations well.


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