However one defines success—love, the freedom and ability to do as you choose, the path of self-discovery, marriage and family, a six-figure salary, houses, cars, a six-pack (abs, not beer that is), etc.—human beings appear to be in constant pursuit of it. And we receive mixed messages about how to achieve it all.
In this endless pursuit, we will likely face disappointment over unfulfilled expectations that can cause us to build up the same anticipation in others and let them down as well at some point. But feelings of disappointment, along with their potential to demoralize and immobilize us, can be tamed and possibly avoided altogether when expectations are managed effectively.
Managing Others’ Expectations
Successfully navigating another individual’s unfixed wants and needs in order to fulfill their expectations—whether known or unknown—can be tricky. “It takes strong analytic, communication, problem-solving, planning, and implementation skills,” says Vickie Cox Edmondson, Ph.D., an associate professor of management at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Good rapport, which is an open honest relationship built on mutual trust and respect, is the foundation that allows you to really use all of those skills,” adds Nick F. Nelson, a former project manager, now principal and COO of Liquid Soul Media, an Atlanta-based marketing company. “Sometimes people don’t know what they want or need, but they will still hold you accountable for fulfilling it,” says the 37-year-old who oversees the day-to-day operations, creative process, and execution of all LSM’s professional services. So, even after requirements have been communicated in writing or discussed, be forward thinking and ask lots of questions to discover the unknown. “For example, a good question is, ‘What does success in this relationship and or project look like to you?’” says Nelson. Edmondson also recommends you identify potential problems and develop plans to address them during the planning stage rather than waiting. When problems do arise, offer solutions. “And following-up with the person afterwards,” Nelson adds.
Managing Your Own Expectations
“The problem with managing our own expectations is that people convince themselves their own expectations are the truth,” says Thomas A. Gordon, a licensed psychologist and founder and principal of TAGA Consulting (www.taga consulting.com), a corporate leadership solutions and change strategy consulting firm based in Philadelphia. “But one has to continually adapt to all sorts of contexts, challenges, and changes in order to be sustainably successful. Consider richly diverse, knowledgeable views and dance with the possibilities.”
From a psychological point of view, Gordon says failure to manage expectations well, both in our personal and professional lives, is caused by poor focus, destructive or depleted energy, and dysfunctional partnering. “We partner with people with whom we don’t share like minds, but we assume we can solve problems together,” he adds. Gordon also cites favoritism and feeling invalidated on the job, as well as a lack of resources—including money, equipment, time, and respect—as causes.
“When we’re wounded, angry, guilty, and depressed, we don’t operate from a clear appreciation of our purpose, self-worth, and realistic capacities; we feel clouded, unclear, and unsure how to really win on a given field of play.”