We all realize the importance of level setting or managing expectations. In the workplace, regardless of the field we are in or what our job title says, it is important for results to be achieved; for expectations to be met, even exceeded. It is equally important in our personal lives. Managing expectations is a universal skill, and underrated I could argue. Level setting expectations is a topic that is often ‘glossed over’ or not discussed as much as it really deserves to be yet it is important in all aspects of our lives.
In my role as a Leadership Development Facilitator and Coach, I teach others to set clear role expectations and appropriate goals, to provide effective feedback, to follow up if goals /outcomes were met, and to re-adjust if needed. I also help leaders deal with their emotions when expectations are not met.
In life, there are many times we are let down; either by the expectations we place on others or the expectations others have placed on us. Our feelings can drive our actions. Think about how you feel when others don’t meet your expectations? Are you disappointed? Disillusioned? Dissatisfied? Annoyed? How do you feel when others don’t do ‘the right thing” or what you expected them to do? What if they did nothing? Or said nothing when they knew the project would be delayed? What did you do? At times, we can simply be upset with our own thinking and beliefs. Maybe we expect “too much” from others. Managing expectations is not just about those we place on others, it is also the expectations that others place on us. Perhaps, we let others down. It’s equally important to be aware of what expectations others have placed on us.
Not knowing all of these expectations can cause drama, disruption, conflict, hurt feelings, abandonment, despair, etc. None of those words are positive. The bottom line: Not managing expectations is wasteful and does not add value. It can be quite damaging to our relationships. Is there a positive side of NOT managing expectations? I don’t think so.
The question remains, how do we successfully manage expectations? It all boils down to a few main points:
1. Check ALL Assumptions (yours and others) AND check them at the door: We have all heard the old adage of assumptions and yes it’s true! How many times in life do we ‘unsafely’ assume we know yet we don’t have all the facts? Or we listen to others without checking the facts which informs our point of view. Try to ensure that the other person (s) has the same understanding of a project, deadline, task, or situation that you do. Engage with others who see things differently than you do. Seek multiple sources for facts ensuring a more accurate conclusion as you are not trusting one channel exclusively. Ask questions rather than making statements that put others on the defensive. Invite discourse. Bear in mind that you do not have to agree with what you hear.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Isn’t this solution for all of life woe’s? Communicate as frequently as you can and with clarity; especially during times of change or turmoil. This is particularly critical for those relationships where there are low trust levels. Begin having conversations of what is to be expected, how tasks are to be accomplished, and what the budget or KPI’s or success metrics are. Have these conversations at the onset of the project as well as throughout as circumstances change. During these conversations it is important to be mindful, actively listen, and leave ample time for questions so all involved parties understand each other and feel heard.
3. Be Accountable: Own it! Accountability is the ultimate performance driver. As a distributor of the 5 Behaviors of Cohesive Teams based on Patrick Lencioni’s work, I am continually asked by leaders to help their teams hold one another accountable. Accountability is the glue that holds peers focused on the same task commitment: the same expectation. It is honoring the support they provide each other, and it is the fierce desire not to let each other down. Accountability is about effectively managing issues and expectations, before they can derail the intended result.
4. Feedback: Learning how to offer both positive and constructive feedback is a core life skill. Being able to ‘push’ back when needed is appropriate. After all isn’t the goal of managing expectations related to the actual expectation itself? One has to be comfortable that the expectations are realistic and achievable. Be honest and truthful, even if what you have to say isn’t going to make the other person too pleased. Being honest about a project delay or mistake could be a million times better than promising to deliver and missing the dealing.
5. Self-Regulate: I have learned in life when we are disappointed with others or with ourselves to just let it be, reevaluate, and then decide the next move. Act without being emotional. Take a deep breath, or several. Walk away if needed, then come back and address it. Being aware of your own feelings and emotional triggers helps one self-regulate. Keep reminding yourself that you are in control: of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
In sum, I suppose level setting expectations can be summed up as managing relationships, which is what life is about. Be honest with yourself and in turn be honest with others. If a mistake was made or deadline missed, be honest. As difficult as it may be, others will be grateful you did. Honesty breeds trust which breeds healthy relationships. In every single aspect of our lives we have expectations. Learning how to manage them effectively will save you from disappointment and will help ensure success. Good luck!