Friday, August 22

Thinking more about expectations

I was thinking more about expectations because of all of the connotations that can to mind, but also because of all of the interesting images I discovered related to peoples' thinking of "expectations."

In performance reviews, managers are often asked to rate their subordinates using a scale with "exceeds expectations" as the highest.

Most of us know how hard it can be to meet expectations never mind exceed them. We also know that one person's interpretation of those expectations can different from someone else's.

In my experience, having lowered expectations is often key. Sure, we want events to go well. We have certain visions of how conversations might go and events might play out. That's what we hope will happen.

Sure I know there's a whole movement of people visualizing success or whatever they visualize, but they visualize that for themselves. They have zip control over anyone else, how anyone else is coming to the party. We forget that others have their own expectations of how an event might play out. The conflict of the visualizations!

I can't even imagine the millions of hours spent with therapists as patients have discussed unmet expectations, and how those unmet expectations have come to inform far too much of how individuals view themselves, their work, their lives. But I have to wonder how many of those unmet expectations are also unrealistic.


Here's another way to look at expectations and outcomes. If our expectations are too high, we will experience disappointment. Someone did say or do the "right" thing: what we thought we needed or wanted to happen. If our expectations are low, we just might experience a pleasant surprise. I'm not a therapist (and do not play one on TV), but it seems to me that this is a far better option. What might be even better is if the lowered expectations that yield a pleasant surprise or two also leads to a bit more introspection about those expectations.

In my case, lowered expectations were learned over a period of time. In a particular situation, I knew not to have high expectations because time and time and time and yes, time again, high expectations had lead only to disappointment. With much lower expectations, I returned from that encounter with less anger, less resentment, and even the occasional pleasant surprise. Yes, I could have avoided that situation over the years, but that would have led to guilt, which could have been a different reason for spending thousands of dollars in therapy.

I know that managers have to have a way to measure how well their employees are doing. I think the scale of measurement has to be revisited, or there has to be a discussion of what the organization means by "exceeds expectations." Even then, managers and their respective employees need to discuss what "exceeds expectations" means for that individual in that role for that period of time.

The same could be true for anyone who works within a framework of expectations. When I go into a meeting or do a presentation or workshop, I can have expectations only of myself. I cannot impose my expectations on anyone else.

When things don't go as I expect, it's often because I'm trying to force others to conform to my preconceived notions. Of course, they don't know anything of my preconceived notions so they can't possibly conform even if they wanted to.

When I have expectations only of myself, I can adjust my expectations based on how others are behaving, the questions they ask, the responses they have to whatever we're doing. Because, to me, my expectations have to be about me--how well I answer questions, how well I present information, how well I listen, how well I interact with others.

In any instance in which I have expectations, I do so much better when I can acknowledge things might not being going as I expect and even better when I can appreciate the good things that happen instead. I'm not one to spend a lot of time visualizing anyway, but it's entirely possible that my imagination isn't sufficient for the possibilities of what could really happen. Good or bad.


Years and years ago I was working for a small software company. One of the women with whom I worked told me over lunch one day that she didn't think I was a very good friend. I should point out that she was about 15 years older than I. She told me she'd done an experiment with me and that I'd failed because I didn't respond to certain things she said or did the way she expected me to and, as a result, we could be only work colleagues. Which we were. It's not as though we hung out after work or anything. I was flabbergasted, and a little wigged out. I've never forgotten it either.


There are those who will disappoint us. We need to try to understand why we're disappointed: because our expectations, about which they might know nothing, were not met? If so, then what?

An expectation is a strong belief that something will or should happen, or that an individual should or will achieve something. Having expectations isn't right or wrong, good or bad. I don't think we can avoid having expectations, but I can hope I limit my expectations to myself and not impose them on others.

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