Great Expectations


“the act or state of looking forward, anticipating”

“a thing look forward to”

“a prospect of future good or profit”

The word “expectation” is a very relational and emotionally charged word. Expectations trigger hope; they imply pent up desires waiting to be fulfilled; they suggest give and take.  Expectations permeate every aspect of life – personal, professional, political, educational, etc. There is power in explicit or implied expectations, and significant impact in the consequences of met or unmet expectations.  The ability to effectively create, maintain, and meet expectations leads to achieving greater business and personal success.

So, how do we manage expectations?

1. No Expectations. 

Alexander Pope says, “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”  I disagree with this position.  First of all I believe it is impossible to live a life without expectation.  We all have them – they are created by the promises we encounter through marketing, political campaigns, and in personal relationships.  Secondly, a life without expectations is a life without anticipation, excitement, and hope.  Expectation of a good future drives us forward and makes us better people, which is worth the disappointment we may encounter along the way.  When we expect nothing, that is exactly what we receive.

In a past relationship, a friend preferred never to set expectations.  He feared failure and did not want to set any expectations because he did not have confidence that he could meet them.  This is not a good strategy either because there is no way to avoid expectations.  If we are not explicit about setting expectations for ourselves, then others create their own expectations based on what they know about us.  It is better to choose and communicate expectations than to try to live up to the implied expectations of others.

2. Low Expectations.

There is no challenge or respect in low expectations.  Brian Tracy states, “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Although it may be tempting to set the bar low to make it easy to live up to expectations, there is no honor in the approach and the underlying root – laziness.  Setting low expectations suggests an unwillingness to grow and stretch ourselves for the good of others.  We may achieve every goal we set, but living like this is like playing or watching a basketball game where the adult players are shooting into a Little Tikes basketball hoop – boring, uneventful, and lacking in merit.

3. Exaggerate Expectations.

“We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.” Abraham Lincon.

It is equally as damaging, or possibly more damaging, to set expectations too high.  Exaggerated expectations may create initial interest and success, but it is a “smoke and mirrors” game.  People get excited about above and beyond expectations and when these expectations are not met, it leads to feelings of betrayal, distrust, and anger.  Never over promise and undeliver – the road to recovering lost trust and respect will be long and may be impossible.

4. Realistic Expectations.

The answer, IMHO, lies in accurately assessing our abilities and then managing expectations accordingly.

~ It is better to take control and explicitly specify expectations rather than allow others to manufacture their own expectations.

~ It is better to set reasonable expectations and gain respect through meeting them than to set low ones that we can easily accomplish with little or no effort.

~It is better to promise what you know you can deliver than to make a promise that is a hyperbole and continuously fall short in fulfilling expectations.

“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.” Brian Tracy

To set reasonable expectations we must identify the threshold between too low and too high.  We must push ourselves for our customers, friends, and family, but we do so within a range of promises that we know we can achieve with diligence, effort, and drive, and then, we follow through.  We create quality expectations.  “The quality of expectations determines the quality of our action.”  A. Godin.

Share your thoughts. How do you successfully manage expectations?  How do you avoid setting improper or unreasonable expectations?  Do you prefer to avoid expectations?

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