“What did you expect?” is a question asked rather often in relationships and you can tell by the tone, it’s generally asked after a problem has already surfaced. If this sounds familiar, don’t kick yourself. The fact is we were never given the tools to live in harmony with each other. We often have to figure this stuff out on our own and it’s usually based on what isn’t working! Harmony in a relationship hinges on being clear with expectations. But like anything else, there’s a right way, a wrong way, and a need for common sense! Consider…
Personal relationships: Dave and Claudia are on their first date at a local restaurant. They’re pleasantly surprised by the way they hit it off right from the start. After a few hours, Claudia looks Dave in the eye and says, “I really like you so I want to be upfront with you. Commitment leading to marriage is very important to me. My goal is to be married within the next 2 years. I also have my heart set on 3 kids and a dog, preferably a poodle.” Dave puts his fork down and signals for the waiter… “Check please!” The date is cut short and the relationship ends before it begins.
Can setting expectations spoil a potentially good thing? If common sense is absent, than the answer is YES! But take a look at what happens with the same couple when expectations are never discussed:
The first date was a success! Dave and Claudia really hit it off and continued to see each other and within a month or so, they became “exclusive”. They spent a lot of time together, went to concerts together, cheered for the same sports teams, met each other’s friends and families and scheduled occasional weekend getaways, but neither touched on the future or their individual expectations of the relationship.
Eight months later, Claudia overhears Dave bragging about her to his buddy Ralph. “She’s just awesome! We think alike, you know? Like she’s completely on board with staying single and she doesn’t get caught up in the pressure society puts on us to be ‘married with children’! Thank God, ‘cause you know I’m not cut out for any of that!” Ralph nods, “Yup, darn good thing you found a woman on the same page!”
When Ralph leaves, Claudia explodes! “What do you mean I’m on board with staying single?” She holds out her left hand, “I’ve been waiting for a ring! And having children? Just look at this body! It’s made for having kids and that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life! 3 maybe 4 of them! You should have known that!” Why didn’t Claudia ever tell Dave? Why didn’t Dave ever ask?
The answer is most likely due to one of the following:
1. FEAR: Dave was afraid to ask because he might not like the answers and be faced with a decision he’d rather not make. Claudia avoided telling Dave for fear of his reaction, or fear of being faced with a conflict. Both were basically afraid of the outcome for whatever reason, so they postponed the inevitable. Fear can ruin relationships!
2. ASSUMPTIONS: Dave simply assumed Claudia was on the same page since she never brought up marriage or kids. Claudia assumed Dave should know because… “Well doesn’t every woman want that?” Both were basically assuming the other thought like them. Assumptions can ruin relationships!
3. UNCERTAINTY: Dave or Claudia never set expectations about the future because neither were quite sure what they wanted anyway. They were comfortable just riding the waves of life hoping the other would decide for them. But uncertainty about one’s future often turns into resentment when someone else makes the decision for us! Therefore, uncertainty can ruin relationships!
These three feeble reasons are the same I see over and over in personal and professional relationships and it can set the relationship up for failure right from the start! Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. Don’t ever assume they know what you are thinking. And DO be certain about your own expectations – because if YOU aren’t certain, you can’t expect your lover/co-worker/child/employer to be either!
Professional relationships: “She never told me want she wanted, yet she expected me to know!” is an expression shared by many the unemployed person who got fed up and left a job. People interact and perform better when they know exactly what their employer wants from them. Even the most skilled person often fall shorts when expectations haven’t been discussed by a superior. Although communication is a 50/50 proposition, the responsibility of discussing expectations falls heavier on the shoulders of the employer. Why? Because the average employee won’t ask what their superior expects of them, let alone tell their superior what they expect! When an employee isn’t clear about what’s expected of them, they often become hesitant, distracted and make mistakes. Or they lose interest completely.
While consulting businesses, I run into the following situation constantly: An employer shakes his head in disgust and asks me, “What in the world was he expecting?” when describing a ‘problematic employee’. I reply with the question, “Were you both clear about your expectations?”
“Of course! I spelled out everything in detail!” the employer looks at me as if I offended him. “Okay,” I continue, “Then what was this particular employee expecting from you?” The employer looks down at the floor, “Hmmm. Good question.”
Setting expectations is a must. The good news is it’s easier than you think. And when it’s done right, the relationship (personal or professional) will flourish in ways that can seem miraculous. (Believe me – I have the personal and professional case studies to prove it!) In Part 2 of “Can You Believe He Expects Me To Do That?” I’ll share the basics of setting expectations… so stay tuned!