Managing Expectations

“Disappointment is unmet expectations. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.” – Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart

Isn’t that the truth? What I’m learning is that in the absence of information, people draw their own conclusions about what is happening and how things should go. So, while I tend to be an under promise and over deliver kind of person to save others and myself from disappointment, if we don’t provide any information about what to expect, people will decide for themselves.

It’s important to understand what this means for us in terms of what we expect from others and what others expect from us. Managing expectations makes the work go more smoothly for all of us. Here are some small moves that I’m making, and I would love to learn what moves you are making personally and professionally to manage expectations.

Expectations Related to Replies:

When I send an email and need something back from people, I let them know when I need to hear back by. This way I don’t get annoyed when people don’t get back with me right away because I’ve given them and myself a window of time. Likewise, I like to let people know when they can expect to receive things back from me and work hard to stick to that. I might say, “I’m not sure, but I can find out and get back with you by the end of the week. Does that work for you?” The answer is almost always yes. Otherwise, if I don’t reply at all within a day, they might wonder if I forgot about the email or whether I’m going to get back with them.

Expectations Related to Meetings:

This is a big one. Meetings can be a drag. A well-executed meeting, however, can make our work go smoother and faster. Good meetings also inspire people to be their best selves and do their best work. It is very important to me that meetings start and end on time. Both the meetings that I attend and the meetings I lead. I’ve learned, however, that some people don’t share this value, and it leads to disappointment on my part which turns into resentment and a feeling that people don’t value our time. So, I’ve figured out which meetings I attend that typically don’t end on time, and I’ve created a buffer in my calendar. Or if I simply have to go, I just do. This is much more healthy than silently suffering. I can’t control other people’s meetings, but I can control myself and set my own boundaries. On the contrary, I work hard to end meetings on time, and I think people appreciate it. People are more inclined to show up fully when they know that they only need to be fully present for a certain amount of time. I also work hard to share agendas in advance which always includes a check-in question. People know to expect that at the start and can anticipate what we will be working on in advance and in what format. This supports people in their ability to show up as their best selves.

Expectations Related to Decisions

Ugh. We’ve all been there. “Just decide and move on, already!” Right? Or at other times, “Eek, I think we needed more conversation around this, but we are moving forward?” Both feelings are hard. We often bring expectations related to decisions. We expect things to be decided by a certain time. We expect varying degrees of involvement in decision-making. In the absence of information, the one we thing can count on is that other people will form their own expectations. Meetings are a great place to get decisions-made if you have the right tools and processes. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Eric Twadell who is a superintendent and published author. He talked about this concept of dialogue, discussion, and decision. And since that time, I’ve enjoying labeling meeting agendas with these words to help signal to others what they should expect.

Dialogue: We are having a conversation. We are not working on solutions. We are simply talking about the matter at hand.

Discussion: (I believe the root of discussion means to break apart) We are working through the pros and cons of various solutions.

Decision: We will decide today. I use a decision-making protocol for this from The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar.

Often, we move through all of that in that order. When we aren’t in a hurry, we might dialogue at the first meeting. Discuss at the second meeting and decide at the third. I leveraged this strategy more when I was working with two high schools in the same school district. It can be challenging to be aligned and get decisions made when that’s the case. So, we would dialogue, and then they would go back and dialogue with their teachers and/or families. We would discuss and they would go back and do the same and/or do some research if needed. Finally, we would decide.

In my first year in that role, I asked for some feedback. One of the high school principals said in so many words (and kindly), “It feels like we come to these meetings and talk but never take action.” Cringe. I’m a doer! They expected, as they should have, that if they were going to be out of their buildings, the time would be meaningfully spent making decisions and getting things done. I’m glad I took that summer to learn as much as I could about meetings that get things done AND grow us.

What expectations are you bringing to your work, and how might you manage your expectations? Expectations lead to disappointment which can lead to other feelings that make it harder for us to get access to our positive emotions. And positive emotions help us reach our greatest potential. Literally. It’s science that we are smarter and perform better when we feel happy.

How might you manage the expectations of those you serve, so they can get greater access to their positive emotions too?

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