Stop expecting what you haven’t been promised

Having hopes, dreams, and expectations is a good thing, for the most part. However, sometimes 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.

In fact, if you self-reflect I am sure you’ll see that most of the time in most key areas you have clear images and standards about how things should be and what they should look like.

Sometimes we explicitly express our expectations to others. However, more often than not we either describe them in diplomatic ways or drop hints or simply not say them at all.

When our expectations aren’t met, we tend to get upset, disappointed, frustrated. resentful, and angry. We also tend to complain and criticize those who didn’t do what we expected.

If we are honest with ourselves, we may realize that in many cases – perhaps in most cases – our disappointments are not based on the fact that someone explicitly promised something to us and didn’t deliver, but rather on our own personal expectations, standards, hopes and wants.

We often complain about things that we have no legitimate claim over because no one promised us those things. If someone did promise something to us and they didn’t live up to their promise and deliver, we would have the right to complain, but absent that premise, regardless of how strongly we feel that “they should have done it”, our expectations remain just that…

I was coaching two senior executives in a successful technology company. They were the heads of the two biggest sales divisions in the company. These two sales divisions had to collaborate on daily bases in order to pursue, close and execute deals. However, they also needed to abide by clear role definitions, in order to avoid stepping on each other’s toes in the marketplace. Striking that balance often proved challenging. The two executives had very different management styles and temperaments, which often caused them to clash when they had to deal with the inevitable challenges, disputes, and disagreements between the two divisions. Needless to say, their level of personal trust and communication wasn’t high.

They had many complaints about each other, which they often voiced even with their subordinates – about lack of honesty, courtesy, respect, transparency, and collaboration.

One of the executives kept complaining about the fact that his colleague was not including him in new opportunities and leads in a transparent way. But, the other insisted he was doing his best to do so. When I asked if they have created clear and explicit expectations about how to work together, and if they had 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 according to their standards, things started to work much smoother.

The good news is that there are effective and empowering ways to turn unfulfilled expectations and illegitimate complaints to effective and accountable actions and results. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Every time you are frustrated, disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations in any area, ask yourself:
  • “Are these my expectations OR did someone actually promise these to me?”
  • If someone actually promised you something, don’t complain. Instead, hold them to account. You have the right and responsibility to do so.
  • If you want an expectation to be fulfilled in a certain area, look for someone who can promise what you want and explicitly request it.

It can be very energizing to have dreams, hopes, and desires as long as you don’t get trapped in the vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations. You can start by simply abiding by the simple commonsense rule:

Stop complaining, being disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations that nobody explicitly promised you.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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