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Expectations: Avoiding Disappointment in Relationships

Mar 7, 2016

“You cannot hold people accountable for unspoken, unrealistic expectations.”

Perry Noble on the EntreLeadership Podcast (Episode #136)

I used to work for “the siren.” Starbucks – the big green mothership of coffee.

For nearly a year and a half, I donned my black polo, khaki pants and green apron to make more extra-caramel, caramel Frappuccino’s than I can imagine. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about myself. And I gained so many stories.

“What’s the Most Important Thing For Us?”

One story involved a performance review with my boss. Starbucks did performance reviews every six months. At my one year, I sat down with my manager to discuss my performance. At the end of the review, she asked if I had any feedback for her. I shared one question, “What’s most important for our store? How do I prioritize all of the things you call us to focus on – drive-thru speed, customer service, shift tasks, up-selling promotional items, or efficiency of movement? What’s the most important thing?”

I had become frustrated by the conflicting directives and the confusion about priorities.

I loved my manager, but she couldn’t answer my question. The best she could do was, “We navigate ambiguity every day, Scott, that’s what we do.” This is corporate speak for “we have too many priorities to count and we’re confused as a company.” I left the conversation with a small raise. But I was frustrated because the confusion only grew. (Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how to run a coffee company!)

expectations

Expectations are Important!

That day, I was reminded of the importance of expectations with communication and relationships.

Last week, I wrote that I believe there were two causes of relational challenges.  One cause is assumptions and the other is unstated, unmet expectations.

Expectations are those places where we say “I thought you knew” or “I just assumed you would know.”

Unmet expectations cause personal disappointment and interpersonal strife. Unstated, unmet expectations can destroy relationships. I was in a dating relationship in college which was marked by constant turmoil. The chaos and drama was fueled by unstated, unstated expectations. When we communicated expectations clearly, we were great. But normally we didn’t and we inevitably broke up.

We can control our expectations. If expectations can be adjusted in light of experience, disappointment can be transformed into celebration. Communicating our expectations enables other people know what’s going through our head.

When we adjust our expectations in light of our experiences, we can better manage the “uncontrollable forces” our lives encounter. When we communicate our expectations to others, we give them context for what we’re thinking and feeling. We help them interpret our reactions and responses.

Avoiding The Danger of Unstated, Unmet Expectations

As I’ve reflected on the danger of unstated, unmet expectations to the relationships which matter most to us, I’ve identified five steps we can take to avoid these landmines.

1. Unearth expectations.

We have to be confident enough to state our expectations. We also have to bold enough to ask other people about theirs. Unstated expectations are dangerous because they’re unstated. When they remain hidden, they cannot be met but by accident. When we unearth our expectations and those of others, we increase the chances they’ll be met. We also decrease the chances that disappointment will destroy the relationship in question.

2. Clarify expectations.

Some expectations are partially known but with some remaining confusion. We all think and process life uniquely. For example, I expect Peep-flavored milk to taste disgusting because Peeps are gross. Others of you love them – you must because 1.5 bullion Peeps will be made this year.

By clarifying what’s confusing, we begin to understand why someone else thinks the way they do. We put ourselves in their shoes, increasing the chance they’ll feel valued and significant. We also increase the chances we can meet or exceed their expectations.

3. Adjust expectations.

Most of life is adjusting our expectations. Those who refuse to adjust their expectations are either tyrants or terminally-disappointed. If you cannot adjust your expectations, you’ll either be Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada or Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Every day, we adjust our expectations – what we thought we’d get done and what we get done. How we though our day would go and what really went down. For some of us, we have the list of qualities we were looking for a spouse and the person we’re now with today. The ability to adjust increases the likelihood of satisfaction.

Every day, we adjust our expectations – what we thought we’d get done and what we get done. How we thought our day would go and what really went down. For some of us, we have the list of qualities we were looking for a spouse and the person we’re now with today. The ability to adjust increases the likelihood of satisfaction.

4. Refuse to submit to some expectations.

There are some expectations we should not submit to meeting. Just because someone expects it does not mean we’re beholden to them or their expectation

Autonomy and identity are rooted in this reality – “I know who I am and I know who I am not.”

Sometimes, our insecurity leads us to enslave ourselves to the expectations of everyone around us. Disappointing them would crush us, while trying to gain their approval crushes us anyway. Sometimes the best thing you can say is no.

5. Exceed expectations.

I wanted my manager at Starbucks to help me focus my energy so I could exceed our customer’s expectations. Yet, she left me so confused I felt like I couldn’t ever win.

When you clarify expectations, you set the table to surprise and delight someone, to give them an unforgettable moment. When you can figure out what someone else expects and go above and beyond them, you give them an incredible gift.

Turning A Terrible Anniversary into A Great One

One of my favorite moments with my wife was our 6th anniversary. She was in the hospital, pregnant with our twins, hooked up to a monitor 24 hours a day for 6 weeks. I learned she didn’t expect much for our anniversary. She was bed-ridden, stuck in a hospital room. But I’m creative and ambitious. I ordered takeout from her favorite Indian restaurant. Two ladies in our church graciously brought their violins to the hospital. I had her best friends go out and buy her a dress, come in early and do her hair and makeup.

It was an incredible evening, one I will never forget. I doubt I’ll ever be able to top it, but I’m foolish enough to probably keep trying!

Expectations can make or break every relationship you’re in today. The secret is figuring out what they are, whether you want to submit to them or not, and how you can exceed them. In a world where everything is amazing and no one is happy, exceeding expectations is a rare gift you can gift to someone. A gift that says – you matter, I care about you.

Eliminating assumptions and clarifying expectations can change every relationship in our lives.

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