Lisa arrives at the scheduled time and sees Joe standing in line to get a drink. Lisa is a little disappointed because she feels Joe should have waited for her to arrive before he ordered. Lisa joins Joe in line, they order, and Joe pays for her coffee. Although Lisa thanks him, she can't help but think that he should have waited for her.
Lisa and Joe find a table and sit down. Just as they begin to talk, Joe's older brother Bob plops down with them and takes a slurp of Joe's drink. He cheerfully thanks Joe for the drink and joins the conversation. Lisa is irritated with Bob's intrusion and grows increasingly intolerant of Joe's brother. Whispering to Joe, she asks if they could go for a walk and possibly hang out with Bob some other time. Joe grabs Lisa's hand and asks Bob to excuse them for a moment.
"Lisa, I don't know what's going on here, but you seem to be upset. I thought it might be nice just to hang out for a while but not with this attitude. You seemed irritated from the time you arrived."
"Well, I was a little irritated. I got here and you were already in line. You didn't even wait for me to get here before you ordered. It felt awkward when you paid for my coffee because if I had walked in 2 minutes later, I would have bought my own. After we finally get a table, your brother just decides to join us. You didn't even say anything. I thought we were going to hang out, just us two, and I felt like you weren't even disappointed when he joined in on the conversation."
"Hey Lisa, I don't know what you were expecting, but I didn't say anything about us being alone. Secondly, Bob and I have been here for a half hour. I called you from his cell phone because he suggested it. About the being in line thing, Bob had already gotten me a drink so I was returning the favor. Maybe you didn't realize it, but Bob drove me here because my car is being repaired. Bob was nice enough to drive me here, wait until my car was fixed, and was even willing to hang out with his little brother and girlfriend. And to make matters worse, you've been rude to him. I think you owe us both an apology."
It is appropriate to have expectations at certain times. It is especially important to understand when to expect specific behaviors and how we should communicate our expectations, keeping in mind that when we are disappointed, it is usually based on an assumption or expectation that was never communicated. Our disappointments are typically of our own making.
In a loose sense, expectations come in all sorts of forms and types. Rules for example, are a type of expectation. Most adults understand by definition, that they are expected to follow rules. Most managers or companies write their rules down somewhere, usually in a company handbook or within a memo. There are normally consequences when rules are not followed. Another type of expectation is a goal. Goals are certainly not rules but, in a way, are expectations. When a team sets goals, there is usually a time line established and a set of actions defined and assigned to specific people or departments. Ideally, the team stays in communication with one another and they adapt their plan as needed, always keeping their objectives or goals in mind. They know the expectations and agree to them. Rules and goals work when everyone understands the objective or desired outcome. Rules are pretty simple. They can be accepted by most people pretty easily because most of us have been trained to "follow the rules" from the first day of preschool on. Meeting goals are pretty simple too, that is if everyone understands the objective, wants the same things, and the lines of communication stay open. Expectations in general are much the same. If all the parties involved understand that first, there is an expectation of some sort and secondly, that they are expected to do something or act in some specific way, it works out- but only if everyone wants the same thing.
So, for an expectation to be realistic:
a) All the parties involved must understand that the expectation exists
b) All the parties involved understand that the expectation requires that they are supposed to act in some specific way
c) All the parties involved agree that the expectation is what they want, no matter what their motive
Lets look at the case of Lisa, Joe, and his brother Bob again. Each time Lisa became disappointed, it was based on an assumption with an expectation attached that was not met. First, she assumed that Joe had called her from home or somewhere other than the coffee shop. She also assumed they were meeting alone. She was offended when Joe was in line as she arrived because she assumed he got there as she did. She also assumed that Joe drove to the coffee shop on his own and that Bob was an intruder at their table. This is a classic example of how we somethimes set ourselves up to be disappointed. In this case Lisa was completely responsible for her unhappiness. Joe and Bob did not understand that any expectations existed, they didn't realize that they were supposed to act in some specific way, and could not possibly have agree that they wanted what Lisa wanted- they had no way of even knowing the expectation existed in the first place.
Unfortunately, we can set ourselves up in much the same way at the office if we aren't aware of our assumptions. In the case of our character Lisa, is likely that she did not understand that she assumed anything at all. This is key- becoming aware of our natural tendency to assume things with people, places, or things we are familiar with. There is no reason to completely avoid assuming certain things- for example you might be safe to assume that the conference table and chairs will be in the meeting room tomorrow because they have always been there in the past, but it may not be smart to assume that your boss will be at a meeting you are presenting at when you have never given a presentation before. No precedent has been set so there is nothing to base the expectation on. You are familiar with your boss and you may be tempted to assume something about his character or management style that would lead you to believe he would attend your first presentation; but you cannot make that assumption. Your boss may be committed to other activities or may feel that it would be good for your confidence to go it on your own. There could be a million reasons he would not attend and no real reason he might; none other than your unreasonable assumption that he'll be there. Your boss doesn't attend and you are likely to become angry and hurt. And who is responsible for your pain? You are. No one else. If you behave badly as a result of your hurt, it only complicates things further.
We can't nor should we stop making assumptions completely, but the awareness that some expectations are rational while others are not can help us avoid feeling angry or hurt. It is human nature to feel that we "know" people or believe that we can predict how they may behave. And It can be argued that past behavior can predict future behavior- but not every time, no matter how well we know a person. When we are wrong about our assumptions, we get disappointed. The number of expectations we have on the people in the world will be exactly proportionate to the degree of happiness we experience. Think about Lisa, Joe, and Bob. I hope the story looks different now then it did when you first read it.
Julie Johnson- AH HAH!
PS : View my segment on Clear VS Muddy Communication