Struggling with Expectations

Note: This post was originally published on July 11, 2012 under the title “Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?” It has been revised and updated significantly.

Expectations Are a Part of Life

Though my boys left elementary school years ago, I still remember the grading system used for their report cards.

  • BE = below expectations
  • ME = meets expectations
  • AE = approaching expectations
  • EE = exceeds expectations

In a college communication class I took years ago, the professor asked for our expectations on a particular assignment. Most students said, “I don’t have any.” Upon completion of the assignment, the teacher asked if expectations were met, and students answered either “yes” or “no.” The teacher then asked, “How can your expectations be met or not met if you didn’t have any to begin with?”

Anyone in sales knows that 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.

From business to education to personal relationships, expectations direct every area of life.

Analyzing Expectations

“Expectations are beliefs that spring from a person’s thought process when examining evidence.” (“What does the Bible say about expectations?” at GotQuestions.org)

With that definition in mind, consider that…

  • Expectations are often formed automatically and without effort.
  • Expectations are often unknown until they’re unmet.
  • Expectations are not always requirements, but we often treat them as such.
  • Expectations set standards that are often not agreed upon by those involved.
  • Expectations can be reasonable and still go unmet.

If you analyze your irritation, frustration and anger at any given time, in most instances you’d likely discover the root cause to be unmet expectations. And if you fail to adjust how you operate within these expectations, they’ll eventually wreak havoc in your life.

To avoid the chaos expectations often create, start by realizing that expectations become irritations, frustrations and anger when they are…

  • Unmet
  • Unrealistic
  • Unfair
  • Unset
  • Unclear

When we simply let the resulting emotions (irritation, frustration and anger) bubble up without assessing from whence they came, we’ll constantly find ourselves caught in the struggle that expectations create when left to their own devices. In other words, we need to deliberately make a point to understand and clarify expectations.

Expectations As Fuel for Healthy Relationships

We can’t escape the fact that expectations exist and that they are often the nemesis to healthy relationships. But they don’t have to be. Instead, the existence of expectations can fuel our communication, which can strengthen and deepen relationships. Expectations, especially when clarified and agreed upon, can actually help direct action toward progress.

Consider the following points to help clarify expectations in a way that can strengthen relationships, whether with your spouse, kids, coworkers or customers.

  • Understanding other people’s expectations takes work.
  • Telling someone your expectations takes courage.
  • Discussing expectations is often appropriate and necessary.
  • Writing down expectations can help clarify them.
  • Flexibility must accompany expectations.

Expectations must be acknowledged and communicated if they are to be a positive force in relationships. Yet, even with all our efforts toward communication of expectations, we still will regularly deal with the unexpected.

Expect the Unexpected

To ward off the negative impact of unmet expectations, we need to learn to expect the unexpected in the form of disappointments as well as surprises, unmet as well as exceeded expectations. They are a part of life because expectations are a part of life.

As we expect the unexpected, we can expect expectations to sometimes be unmet, unrealistic, unfair, unset and unclear because that is their nature. We can also learn to decrease the gap between expectations and reality as we learn to communicate better with those around us.

DISCUSSION: What is the most helpful piece of advice you have for managing expectations?

This post was inspired by the comments of Mark Allman in the post Happy Anniversary.

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