Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?

My son’s final report card for the 5th grade had a mix of ME (meets expectations) and AE (approaching expectations) on it. Fortunately, there were no BE’s (below expectations). But clearly, expectations were set and hopefully well-communicated to the students. If nothing else, the idea that people expect things of them should be clear.

Go back 15ish years to a college class I took. For one assignment, the teacher asked for our expectations. Most students said they didn’t have any. At the end, when asked if their expectations were met, students said they either were or were not. The teacher then asked, “How can your expectations be met or not met if you didn’t have any?” I don’t remember any of the details of this assignment or even what class it was, but I remember this point about expectations. Expectations often operate unawares.

Now consider the business world. Anyone in sales knows that their business revolves around meeting customer expectations. As Curtis Fletcher says in Creating Customer Expecta…, every aspect of a business creates expectations, from the tag line, to the company name, to the web site. In other words, we have some control over the expectations of others. Some.

Before getting at why expectations could be the source of much stress or worse in our lives, let’s first understand some basic facts about expectations.

  1. Everyone has expectations.
  2. Expectations are often unknown.
  3. Expectations are not requirements.
  4. Expectations are not rights.
  5. Expectations set standards.

The problem with expectations comes when we treat the above facts as if they don’t exist, whether because we forget them or are ignorant of them. If we’re honest with ourselves, we constantly discover that the source of much irritation, frustration and anger comes when expectations that no one knew existed are not met. So at what point do expectations begin to create havoc in our lives? Expectations can become irritations, frustrations and anger when they are…

  1. Unmet
  2. Unrealistic
  3. Unfair
  4. Unset
  5. Unclear

… and we do nothing to understand the process our expectations go through. We simply let the resulting emotions (irritation, frustration and anger) bubble up without assessing from whence they came. In other words, we need to deliberately make a point to clarify expectations.

Expectations, especially when they are clear, can be very helpful in determining an individual or an organization’s course of action. Consider the following points to help clarify expectations in a way that can strengthen every relationship, whether with your spouse, kids, coworkers or customers.

  1. Understanding other people’s expectations takes work.
  2. Telling someone your expectations takes courage.
  3. Discussing expectations is often appropriate and necessary.
  4. Writing down expectations can help clarify them.
  5. Expectations are a part of every relationship.

There are two keys to not allowing expectations to degrade relationships, to lead to discouragement or depression, or to simply cause an all-around bad day. First, understand and communicate expectations, points that were essentially covered in the above tips. Second, having and constantly developing broad shoulders. Take the time to answer the question, “Do you have broad shoulders?” Understanding and focusing on both of these elements can go a long way in warding off the negative impact that expectations can cause if we let them… if we do nothing to understand them.

So what can we expect without fear of being wrong? We can expect disappointments as well as surprises. We can expect mistakes, failures and successes. We can expect the unexpected. And, we can expect our expectations as well as the expectations of others to be regularly unmet, unrealistic, unfair, unset and unclear. Why? Because we’re human.

DISCUSSION: What additional points do you have regarding expectations?

Note: Special thanks to Mark Allman for his contribution of many ideas for this post. You can read those ideas in his own words in the comment section of Happy Anniversary.

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