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Set Expectations and Be Happier at Work

People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”

The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The Set expectationscommunication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”

Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.

How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.

Here are five questions you should ask every person you work with to set expectations. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:

  1. What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
  2. What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
  3. How do you like to communicate? Phone, in-person, by appointment or drop by’s.
  4. How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
  5. If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do, and is it ok to do that?
  6. What are your pet peeves at work? How will I annoy you and not even know it?
  7. How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)

I know. That was seven questions, not five. I could keep going. But this is a good start.

Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.

It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.

set expectations

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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One Response to “Set Expectations and Be Happier at Work”

  1. Kevin Barron says:

    You’re getting spooky. This is at least the third week in a row where your post expands on a conversation I’ve just had with a colleague.

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