Expectations are central to an individual’s well-organized, functional, and fulfilling life. They are even more critical to an organization of multiple individuals because expectations vary among the members of a team or department. Why? Because expectations that are strong and animated form distinct and striking mental images projected into the present as a guide to behavior, and most intensely into the future as an end result. Each individual has his or her own take or angle on how, consciously or unconsciously, they form their personal and private mental images. Those “takes” are the source of their behaviors. When all of their takes are aligned most everything operates smoothly and all participants are pleased and feel productive. When a gap is present there is really no telling what might occur because people are not only not on the same page but on different perhaps radically different pages. Imagine what the latter would look like—a burst of energy and effort shooting off in different directions creating chaos to say nothing of the irritations and conflicts that ensue. Whether aligned or misaligned, expectations create reality.
So just what is an expectation? What are the elements of an expectation?
An expectation is composed of:
● an imagined mental structure that renders an image or picture of a future outcome;
● an identification with that picture/outcome so that an emotional investment is made;
● an emotional investment that produces a commitment to behave in such a way as to manifest
● an application of energy and effort toward realizing that outcome;
● achieving that end goal as the principal measure of success and satisfaction.
It’s your own, your colleague’s or your client’s vision of a future state of action or accomplishment. It’s that which you look forward to or regard as likely to happen. The attainment of the expected outcome produces a sense of fulfillment and gratification that serves as both a measure and a proof of your ability to accurately assess the future and your capability of attaining it. You have produced both internal and external worth which is a measure of your value.
When expectations fail to be realized the emotional and intellectual distress can be excruciating.
Now About Managing Expectations
Unless you are certain you cannot accomplish the result expected do not back away from the challenge. Why? Think of the opposite: what if people expected nothing from you? What if you expected nothing of yourself? What would that say about you? Nothing good, certainly. Long before you accomplish the goal of an expectation you are thought of and think of yourself as able. An expectation placed upon you or that you place upon yourself is in itself a sign or respect and confidence. You can do it.
We humans consciously and mostly unconsciously create patterns that we use to orient and guide us. So be judicious and vigilant in setting up expectations. We give over our intelligence and emotions into what we imagine and bestow power and authority on what we see. We give consent and approval and comply with and support our mental images. They become emotionally charged and therefore real. When this “living entity” is upset, that creates a painful instability. Examples of that instability are: self-condemnation; depression; withdrawal; being indecisive, unfocused, fearful; and all too often overwhelmed by options. This list is certainly not exhaustive but it is very real.
Clarify expectations. Sort out what’s needed, what is feasible, and how to proceed. Confused or poorly articulated expectations send people on wild goose chases: I say “chases” plural because people will go off on different tangents if the expectations are not clarified. So create a unified, coherent picture and work to articulate it plainly, as simply as you can. Specify. Simplify. Stipulate.
Don’t burden expectations with perfection. Perfection is impossible. Yes I know the old shibboleth—“You can never reach perfection but it’s worthwhile to reach for it.” This has never made sense to me. Why set up something that cannot happen, in fact and in principle? You might say that in reaching for perfection we will reach new heights. But perfection leaves a wake of frustration and exhaustion in its path. Be real. Set up a stretch goal. Imagine a BHAG. But keep your feet on the ground. You will do yourself and those you manage a great favor. Then when you exceed your expectations they will be truly fulfilling. You will have reached both what you are capable of and surpassed yourself into new awareness, vision, and command.
Assess the value of the desired outcome. Distinguish between expected value—personal, professional, and corporate; perceived value—calculated, imagined, and dreamed of; and delivered value—measured by external standards.
Expectations are deeper and broader than requirements. A requirement is necessary. You are obligated to produce it. That is certainly part of an expectation. But requirements are focused and by default narrower than what might be explored. Open yourself and those you manage to consider possibilities beyond what you/they are accustomed to. The slogan is, “Think outside the box.” True. And since we can see only what we can see it’s important to brainstorm with others and challenge the boundaries of what has been already established. Why? Because you will get the chance to express yourself beyond what you already know and discover what more you are and can be.
Expectations create reality, your reality and those with whom you work. Treat them with care. They can provide dividends beyond what you can now imagine.