Blog: Leading & Living Courageously

Are you expecting what you haven’t been promised?

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Having hopes, dreams, and expectations is a good thing, for the most part. Sometimes, however, having expectations can be a source of disappointment and frustration.

We have expectations in most areas of our life. At work, we expect our boss and colleagues to treat us a certain way. And we expect that things that are not working well in the work environment will get addressed and fixed in a timely manner.

In our personal relationships, we expect our partners to treat us lovingly, and with respect and generosity. And, we have clear images and standards about what all that should look like. In fact, if you self reflect on this you’ll see that we have a view about how things should be in most areas, most of the time. Sometime we state our expectations, but often they stay unspoken. When our expectations aren’t met, we tend to get upset, disappointed, frustrated and often discouraged. Sometime even resentful, and angry.

But, when we get disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations – what percent of the time were these expectations explicitly promised to us by someone?

I have found in my own life and in my work with others that more often than not we get disappointed and upset about things based on expectations that we have, which in reality no one ever explicitly promised us. We often complain about things that we have no legitimate claim to; no one promised us those things. If someone did promise something and they didn’t live up to their promise or deliver, we have the right to complain and there are effective and empowering ways to do it.

Recently, I was coaching two senior executives in one of the leading brokerage firms. They had very different personalities and they were assigned to a lucrative project together, but were not performing as well as they needed to because they had significant trust and communication issues. They had many complaints about each other – about lack of honesty, courtesy, respect, transparency and collaboration. And, most of these were never effectively communicated or addressed.

One of the executives kept complaining about the fact that his colleague was not including him in the project in a transparent way. But, the other swore he was doing his best to do so. When I asked if they have created clear expectations about how to work together, and made specific promises to each other on what they could be counted on for, the frustrated executive said “No” and added “this is basic stuff. My colleague should know how to communicate and how to include me”. As if there is some universal truth about how to work together effectively. Once the executives learned to make specific requests for what they needed from each other, rather than merely expect the other to behave consistent with their standards, things started to work much better.

We will be so much more powerful and happier in our lives if:

1)     Every time we are frustrated, disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations in any area we would ask our selves: “Are these my expectations OR did someone actually promise these to me?”

2)     If we wanted an expectation to be fulfilled in a certain area, we looked for someone who can promise these and explicitly request what we want.

3)     We stopped complaining, being disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations that nobody explicitly promised us.

It can be very energizing to have dreams, hopes and desires as long as we don’t get trapped in the vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations.

Where in your work and life have you been frustrated, disappointed and upset about unfulfilled expectations that no one ever promised you to fulfill?

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