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.

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

19 thoughts on “Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?

  1. Very nice job Kari. My aunt and uncle found out they were at odds over something after 40 years of marriage because they never were willing to sit down and discuss their expectations and it would have been easily rectified had they done so. It is scary Miss Scare to do these things the first time but the benefits can be great.

    Thanks for the shout out by the way. I am humbled and honored.

    • My parents and several close friends of ours have marriages that have either ended or are in shambles for these reasons. My husband and I are using them as motivation to not let it happen to us by communicating everything, including and especially our expectations. Yes, it is scary, but the benefit is so amazing! Thank you for providing such a great framework for this post.

  2. I like how you end your post. The solution is to understand that we will have wrong expectations. I think some think the solution is to eliminate all expectations. They adopt an almost Buddhist philosophy of expecting nothing and therefore never being disappointed. They try to eliminate any form of desire at all. But that's not a realistic or a healthy way to live.

    • Eliminating all expectations just isn't possible. They are a natural part of how we think. You get at a point that I want to emphasize. There is only one truth that works, and it's found only in God's Word. Following that truth is the only truly realistic and healthy way to live. Disappointment is a part of life. God is disappointed all the time, right? (And that's just from me.)

      • I agree Kari, there will always be expectations. Our very interaction with each other set up unspoken expectations all the time. If I commented on your blog everyday and then just stopped you would wonder where the heck did he go because I set up an expectation just by the way I go about my life. You have even set up expectations as I look for a thought provoking post from you regularly! :) Part of the clarification of expectations sometimes deals with people telling each other that they like or do not like the way the person goes about stuff that sets up either positive or negative expectations.

        • Maybe I should have said in the post to expect there to be expectations. Could we really operate without making them? And, some level of standard should be assumed, right? That ideas is what McDonald's built its reputation on and that same idea is somewhat what my marriage is built on. Expectations met or not determine the level of trust. Now, we try to communicate as many expectations as is reasonably possible, but it's just not possible to communicate them all. Having broad shoulders and realizing that there's usually more to a circumstance than we may ever know can help in keeping unmet expectations from ruining a relationship. This is a WAY deeper topic than I had first realized, and it is really connected to so much of how we do life. And, by the way, I WOULD wonder if you stopped commenting all of a sudden :-)

  3. HI Kari, you are right on! I learned a long time ago that it is your expectations of the way you think something should go or someone should act that sets you up to be hurt. they say FEAR is "false expectations appearing real"….I try to remember that when fear pops up, and it does quite often. Sometimes we fail to look beyond the fear and find out what is really holding us back. Thanks as always for your thoughtful insights. Mary McCauley

    • Looking beyond the fear is so important. Finding that root cause (what is really holding us back) is crucial in order to live the excellent life that pursues holiness. Thanks Mary!

  4. Kari,
    I had another thought about expectations. I think our trust can be compromised by unmet expectations. Trust in God, trust in our spouse, trust in a friend ect. We have to work to make sure that does not happen.

    • Trust is absolutely linked to expectations. This is why communication is so crucial. It's really the best way to make sure unmet expecations do not ruin a relationship. Yes, it certainly takes hard work to not let that happen as well as to move forward and not get into a rut.

  5. Just read the story of Naaman in 2 Kings again this morning and was struck by how much his expectations affected him. Fortunately, he got passed it and reaped tremendous awards. I encourage everyone to read this story in light of our discussion above on expecations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>