Setting Expectations Leads to Greater Happiness
The daily monologue in my house sounds like, “I am not your housekeeper. My job in life is not to clean up after you.” I am, of course, talking to my six-year-old son who picks up nothing. Instead, he throws everything on the floor. My expectation is that he will pick up after himself, and when he doesn’t (ever), I am very frustrated.
Violated expectations are at the root of disappointment, frustration, and broken relationships. We think, “I expect you to do or be a certain way and you’re not, so I’m unhappy.” If you want to be more satisfied and less frustrated, change your expectations. I don’t mean lower your expectations. I really do mean change them.
When I had my son, I had no idea how difficult it would be to have someone I barely knew (our first nanny) take care of him. It was tortuous until I got the sage advice, “You’re not going to get everything you want. Pay attention to the big things and be ok with good enough.” That’s hard for me. I want things done a certain way (my way). But I also don’t want to do everything myself. So, I find myself altering my expectations and being ok with good enough. And it is very, very difficult.
You likely want each of your employees, coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors to do things a certain way. Sometimes they’ll meet those expectations and sometimes they won’t. Decide what you must have, communicate those expectations (repeatedly if necessary), and let the rest go.
Here are four steps for setting expectations at work:
Setting expectations step one: Consider everything you need or want from a person. Make a list, even if you’ll be the only person who sees it.
Setting expectations step two: Determine what that person is capable of providing. What’s realistic given who they are and the constraints they’re under (time, skills, experience, etc.)?
Setting expectations step three: Reset your expectations, if necessary.
Setting expectations step four: Ask for what you want and be specific about your requests. Telling someone, “This needs to get better,” will accomplish nothing. Telling someone, “I’d like to be included in each meeting that relates to this project and cc’d on all pertinent emails,” may just get you what you need.
As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, be hard on the problem and easy on the person. When you address violated expectations, simply share what you expected to have happen and what actually did happen. That could sound like, “I thought we agreed I would be invited to each meeting pertaining to this client. There was a meeting last week I wasn’t invited to. What happened?” Watch your tone of voice when asking this question. Be neutral and curious.
Changing your expectations will likely be a daily occurrence. People won’t necessarily do things your way or even the way you hoped. Decide what you must have, and let the rest go. Just think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save.