On setting expectations ...

There are over 6000 languages on the planet-  and 2000 of those with over 1000 speakers.   We’ve also all had the experience of talking with someone who, despite using the same language, because of an accent or localised slang, you are unable to properly communicate your message, intention or question.  In addition to these communication languages, we often use very non-specific language when making requests with the assumption that the person receiving the request somehow has the same history, training, wisdom and point-of-view as we do, and that they will interpret the vague language we’ve used in the way we have intended it to be understood.

If we work from the assumption that all people are in the pursuit of happiness, then conversely, people should be looking to avoid stress and conflict.  What this means is that conflict arises from a lack of understanding the other side’s perspective and no clear understanding of the middle ground, no willingness to listen and compromise and also an unclear understanding of the expectations.

Let me give you a practical example:

“Make your bed”

To me, this means affixing the fitted sheet to the mattress in all 4 corners and flattening it.  Putting on the pillow cases and arranging them in a reasonably tidy way (stacked or side-by-side) at the head of the bed.  Placing the top-sheet such that the top of the sheet is somewhat aligned with the bottom of the pillows (an inch or to over or below the pillows is acceptable) and then covering the whole thing with a comforter in a reasonably flat and square fashion, or, if its hot weather, folded neatly and placed along the foot of the bed.

To my 7 year old son, this means all of the above, plus adding extra decorative pillows and arranging his stuffed animals in rows on the bed. He will also clean up toys and clothes on the floor around the bed and proudly show off his work for the praise he craves.

For my 14 year old daughter, this means putting the fitted sheet over 1 to 3 corners of the mattress.  Putting on one pillow case (for the pillow she physically puts her head on), then throwing the top sheet generally over the bed with no care to its alignment to the mattress or pillows and then the same for the comforter.  When I ask her why she would consider that a ‘made bed’ she responds with “that is how my bed, and everyone else’s bed, looks every other day except laundry day.”  And she is right … and she has made a decision that putting in the extra time and effort is not worth the aesthetic of a tidy bed - that no one else will see - for 3 to 6 hours.  Of course her interpretation of the expectation behind the phrase “make the bed” is different from what I wanted which has the potential to create a conflict situation – which clearly was not my or her intention from the start.  This conflict is an unwanted outcome that is a result of poor communication on my part of my expectations.

So, practically, how do we make our requests of others to ensure they are fulfilled to our expectations?
  1. Take the time to explain what your expectations are in as much detail as possible.  Describe your mind picture with 1000 words.  Repeat it a few times using different words or even a different perspective (if your mind can do that) and ask the person to explain back to you what they heard, and their understanding of the agreement.
  2. When receiving the request for an action in this way, drop the notion that this is somehow condescending or demeaning and accept that it is about achieving clarity to increase the chance of satisfaction for the task requester and the task executor.
  3. Set expectations that are reasonable given the time available, knowledge, training and skill sets of the person of whom you are making the request.  If you aren’t 100% sure what those are, ask - engage and get to know the person.  Not their whole life perhaps, but at least the areas related to the task at hand.
  4. Accept that no one (generalisation of course) is seeking a conflict.  We are all seeking praise and the satisfaction of “a job well done” - the good feelings that come from the release of happiness chemicals in the brain.

Remember that communication is an art and we are not all going to be communication artist of the same calibre.  It is incumbent on those that understand this to act in this way in order to set an example and ensure that every interaction becomes a “Win-Win-Win” situation.  You feel good, I feel good, and the job is done.

Be kind to each other.

#expectations #changemanagement #communication 


  1. 😂😂😂 Ahhhh, yes you have a teenager now! They are masters of setting their own expectations.

    Having had two boys who cared little what the world thought of them was exhausting, then I lowered my expectations and my life was so much better!

    I considered it a good day if they were wearing pants when they left the house. Flys open? Yes. BBQ sauce from the previous night’s dinner nicely crusty and dribbling down the t-shirt they had been wearing for 3 days...Yes, but they were technically dressed. My job done. 😂 #lazyassedparenting

    1. I try not to lower my expectations ... just to make them clear and be accepting of the outcome if I don't. The world will be cruel enough without me adding to it.


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