How To Deal With The Expectations vs Reality Gap

| | Personal Leadership

We all have expectations of others and others have expectations of us.  Sometimes we know exactly what is expected of us.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we do what is expected of us whether we like it or not.  Sometimes we don’t.

Yet whatever choices we make there will likely be consequences tied to how well our words and actions measure up against another’s expectations, even if we don’t know exactly what those expectations are.  And the choices others make in relation to our expectations often sets the course for our relationship with each other for better or for worse.

It is predictable that the bigger the gap between the reality that unfolds and expectations that we hold, the more intense the level of frustration will be. 

Expectations in and of themselves are not a bad thing. However, it is when we are neither conscious in formulation nor deliberate in purpose and communication that we get into trouble.  It is often the hidden expectations that play havoc with our relationships.

While you of course can never change others, there are some things you can do to begin to change the dynamics when the gap between reality and expecations is causing frustration regardless of which side of the expectations you are on.

When you become aware that hidden expectations are at play on either side of any relationship, here are three things you can do to empower your relationship.

1.  Own Your Expectations

When you are frustrated with someone because they did not do or say what you expected, it’s time to get clear for yourself about what you were expecting and why.  Remember that people cannot read your mind no matter how well you think they should know you.  You are 100% responsible for your satisfaction so it is up to you to make your expectations clear.  Also keep in mind that the person on the other end of your expectations always has a choice so there are no gaurantees they will satisfy your expectations.  The more unattached you are to the outcome the more freedom you will both have.

If you truly want to empower your relationship consider going a step beyond setting expectations and actually make a clear and specific request.  Expectations are simply a wish without a committed listener.  A request on the other hand invites the person you have expectations of to actually make a choice.  In doing so you invite them into a potentially mutually satisfying relationship rather than leave them trying to live up to your expectations and you in hope that they actually will.

2.  Ask Others to Be Clear About Their Expectations

When you feel like you are on the losing end other side of someone else expectations, it’s time to have a conversation.  Whether you are clear about the expectations and just don’t like them or not clear and frustrated by that lack of clarity, the only path to changing the dynamic of the relationship is through communication.  It may take courage and it may not be easy.  Choose how to proceed based on how much the relationship really matters to you.

3.  Make Choices that Empower You and Your Relationship

Whether you live up to someone elses expectations of you is always a choice.  Remember is it never your responsibility to make someone else happy.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you have a choice, especially when that person is someone who has power or position over you like a boss or a parent.

The only way you will experience any power personally is if you choose based on both your core values and your commitments to those who have expectations of you.

Any choice you make based on your core values will strenghten your relationship with yourself, a key to having a successful and satisfying relationship with anyone.  And any choice you make that is both aligned with your core values and fortifies your integrity in fulfulling your commitments to others will build the foundation of trust that great relationships are built upon.

When you know you are caught in the gap between reality and expectations there is always something you can do – speak up! 

What are your strategies for dealing with the expectations of others powerfully?

Want to learn The Secret to Business Relationships that Work?  Join me and Dana Theus of InPower Consulting for a Free Webinar on November 27, 2012. Click Here to register.  If you find yourself caught in the gap between expectations and reality in your most important relationships then this webinar can help you discover a way to cause a break through!  Click Here to learn more.

Enter A Comment

Stan Faryna   |   21 November 2012   |   Reply

Collaboration – it one the most wonderful of intelligent human activities. It is also one of the most difficult things to pull off.

As I reflect on the things for which I am grateful, I marvel (pun intended for not so obvious reasons) at the collaborations in which I was engaged this year – especially in light of the collaborations that never happened (but should have). [laughing]

Here’s an example of a recent collaboration:
Honor glitters greatest in the human heart

Susan Mazza   |   03 December 2012   |   Reply

Yes, collaboration is indeed so powerful yet elusive. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

Sean Heffernan   |   26 November 2012   |   Reply

I find honest communication is the best way to manage expectations. If you are honest with whoever you’re working with and honest with yourself and express your concerns in a clear manner, expectations can be managed properly. The hardest part is as you alluded to is getting up the courage to do so sometimes.

Susan Mazza   |   03 December 2012   |   Reply

Honesty is certainly key. Setting or managing expectations that fall into the category of what we should expect vs. what we really do expect is a certain recipe for dissatisfaction.

Jagdish Mittal   |   01 December 2012   |   Reply

All the 3 points described are very genuine. Collaboration and cohesion are two most important factors in whole chain .

Susan Mazza   |   03 December 2012   |   Reply

I appreciate you adding “cohesion” to the mix. And now you have me thinking about how both cohesion and collaboration are perhaps at play in any relationship that is both successful and satisfying. How do you distinguish cohesion and collaboration?

Ian Johnson infinite group   |   04 April 2014   |   Reply

WONDERFUL POST! Like a wake, integrity has two sides: Tasks (What you’ve accomplished) and Relationships (Are people better off having crossed your path? Would they want to do it again?).

Does our integrity have gaps? Of course it does. We’re human. The question is where.


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