“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”
Brandon Sanderson, American author
Have your relationships ever suffered because of the expectations that you had of other people? Or maybe you made a premature move because of your career expectations and sabotaged your progress. If so, you’re not alone!
The Relationship Expectation Minefield
I found it quite hard to adapt after I got married the first time. What made it harder was that I had a whole list of expectations about my husband.
I expected him to be as disciplined as my dad was when it came to routine tasks. He wasn’t. I also expected him to be a deep thinker – which he wasn’t (yet). But the biggest issue was that I expected him to apologize after we had an argument.
For me, his version of “I’m sorry” just didn’t cut it. Looking back now, I know there was nothing wrong with the way he apologized. It just didn’t match my expectations of how “sorry” should look and feel. Time and again it would lead to a brand new argument that started with, “If you say sorry like that, don’t even bother to say it!”
Of course, at the time I didn’t have the knowledge or self-awareness to realize that it was not my husband’s behavior that had caused the issues, but my expectations. However, that realization only came with maturity.
Expectations About Work Relationships
Relationships at work can also suffer if you have very specific expectations about how people should respond to you, or how they should behave in certain situations.
I’m not referring to acceptable and unacceptable behavior here. I mean the expectations we sometimes have that other people should behave in exactly the same way that we do.
If you expect a colleague who’s not a “morning person” to give you a bright and cheery high-five every morning, for example, you’re bound to be disappointed. Or, if you expect a quiet, introverted colleague to “shout it from the rooftops” when something great happens, it’s just not going to happen.
Instead, we need to accept people as they are, not as we want them to be.
Do You Expect Too Much of Yourself?
Maybe it has something to do with the era I grew up in, but we were taught to have extremely high expectations of ourselves. You had to excel in everything you did.
That mindset spilled over into my work life, and I “translated” it into putting in extremely long hours. If I didn’t work a 12- or 14-hour day, I felt disappointed in myself.
I also had very high expectations about my career progression. I believed that if I didn’t get promoted within two years of starting at a company, then I wasn’t working hard enough.
And, if I didn’t do everything to the highest possible standard it simply wasn’t good enough. My expectations of myself were so high that I sometimes struggled to live in my own skin.
Flying Too High
As a child, the story of Icarus’ wings fascinated me. I thought he was really stupid to go flying too high, too near the sun, with those wings held together by wax.
Unfortunately, I saw it often in the workplace. People “fly too high” financially but later on they struggle to afford their lifestyle.
Others expect to progress through the ranks quicker than is warranted, causing them to act – ironically – in a way that actually sabotages their career prospects. I’ve also seen more than a few people resign because they’ve become resentful of their lack of progression, only for them to realize much later that quitting was a very poor career decision.
Managing Your Expectations
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about managing our expectations. Here are some of your most insightful responses.
Q1. What expectations do you have of your role/for progression?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that expectations have to be about promotion. But they’re also about knowing where you fit in, and being recognized for your achievements.
@Midgie_MT That I will be challenged to do my best, and to be respected and appreciated for my contribution.
@JoanaRSSousa I’m really bad at managing expectations, because I keep them very low. I prefer to work, do my best, invest in my community, and let the work talk for itself.
Q2. What expectations do you have of your manager or leader and their behavior?
@J_Stephens_CPA Positive and constructive feedback and some proactive guidance. It’s not all roses and it’s not all thorns.
@SizweMoyo More than anything I expect to be led. It’s so disappointing to have a leader who doesn’t lead.
Q3. What expectations do you have of your co-workers or team members?
It’s best to talk about behavioral expectations – so that you don’t expect people to behave in a certain way, even though you’ve never told them what it is. Here are some more expectations that people shared during the chat.
@Yolande_MT I expect team members and colleagues to be who they are. It makes it easier for everybody.
@JKatzaman I expect co-workers and team members to do their best to get along. Life is not all rosy, but there are inevitable thorns to work around rather than fight.
Q4. Are expectations the same as hopes or goals or dreams or rights or…?
@realDocHecht I think expectations and goals can be the same but a little different, too. When someone expects me to act a certain way, that is not exactly a goal. Hope that makes sense!
@BrainBlenderTec Hopes and dreams are generalized usually as “the best” or “better.” Goals are to strive for. Rights are usually legislated, so they’re baseline. Expectations are personal mix of all the above.
Q5. How realistic are your expectations?
@MicheleDD_MT Sometimes, not very realistic. I can make assumptions about why someone’s behavior doesn’t match my “ideal.” The question to ask is: how realistic is my ideal? And, does everyone believe the same things that I do?
@Mphete_Kwetli They’re aligned with what I’m practicing in my actions, and I’m still learning through the process.
Q6. How has an expectation set you up for disappointment in the past?
@ZalkaB When feelings or care was not reciprocated. When I felt like people should’ve invested more of their time, commitment or work into a project with a (not so good) outcome, and that I’d have done it differently – that was a big lesson for me.
@Midgie_MT When I was expecting others to behave and do exactly like I would do. I learned that is never the case!
Q7. What have you learned from disappointments?
@harrisonia Honestly, lowering my expectations has definitely decreased the frequency of my disappointments.
@realDocHecht To move on. It happens and it sucks, but if you can take something from it and change – then good!
Q8. Which expectations do you need to manage better? Why?
@Yolande_MT I need to manage my expectations of others’ work ethic very carefully.
@SizweMoyo My expectations that life will fall into place after my every effort to make sure it does are probably most in need of repair. That’s where most of my disappointment comes from.
Q9. How have you managed others’ expectations of you?
@MarkC_Avgi By trying to always be honest, open and consistent in my words and actions. Delivering and doing what I say I am going to do. Communicating to ensure that their expectations of me are realistic; I am only human, I can only do so much and I make mistakes.
@Mphete_Kwetli Be yourself first, and make clear to them what your abilities are.
Q10. How will you mentor a junior employee about managing their expectations?
@JKatzaman Mentor junior employees by listening first. Remember, you are helping them form their own expectations, not imposing yours on them.
@MicheleDD_MT Coach them on what is possible now and the steps they need to take to get them where they want to go.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Often, the hardest expectations you have to manage are your expectations of yourself, and how much you “should” be able to do. The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is “How Much Can You Do In a Day?”
In our Twitter poll this week, we’d like to know how you decide when to stop working, even if your to-do list is still full of unchecked items. Please cast your vote here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed last week (some of them may only be available to members of the Mind Tools Club):
Avoiding Managerial Self-Sabotage
How to Manage Controlling People
Asking for Help
Stop Playing the “Blame Game”
How to Learn From Your Mistakes
5 Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace
How to Deal With Unrealistic Customers
Managing Unsociable People
The Psychological Contract
How Resilient Are You?