Jason Lauritsen - Crushing talent dogma to free human potential

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Clear Expectations = Great Relationships

Getting my family loaded in the car before a road trip of any length is a stressful event at our house.  On account of having small children, the process is like packing up an entire circus to move it to the next town.  There’s a lot to be done, a lot to remember.  And, historically, my wife and I would both get a little short with each other before we finally made it in the car to leave.  Eventually, what we discovered was that both of us would start this circus moving process with a estimated time of departure in mind but we weren’t communicating to each other what time we were each individually working towards (and almost invariably, the times were at least a little different).  This lack of communication was causing a lot of added stress to the process and once we realized what was happening, we changed our tact by agreeing to a target time before we started packing.  I’m not going to tell you that the process is stress free now, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be.

When relationships break down, it’s frequently due to a failure between the parties to communicate expectations clearly. Marriages, manager/employee, parent/child, friendships, and even family relationships all work best when the expectations are abundantly clear.  This sounds so simple, but as you’ve probably found in your own life, it’s not simple at all.  

Getting clear on expectations isn’t as simple as saying, “This is what I expect.”  That is simply stating expectations.  When expectations work the best, both parties have heard, understand and taken ownership for the expectations for the relationship.  Creating and sharing expectations in this way creates a contract between two people that has real meaning.  Great relationships are shared when two people consistently live up to each other’s expectations and occasionally exceed them.  Without the expectations, the relationship doesn’t have the boundaries it needs to be healthy.   
To create great relationships through expectations requires some key things:
  • Courage.  Speaking your expectations out loud to another person can feel daunting.  You can’t be sure how the other person is going to react, particularly if the expectation is new or has not be communicated in the past.  And, what if the other person doesn’t agree with your expectation?  That leads to conflict and we all like to avoid conflict.  But, it’s in this conflict that we have the conversations that leads to clarity, to shared ownership.  So, the first step is moving beyond your fear and doubts so that you can find the needed conflict to create clarity.
  • Patience.  True clarity of expectations comes over time, particularly with new relationships.  Think of the times when you had a new manager or supervisor.  If you were lucky enough to find a manager who took the time to set expectations up front, you probably didn’t fully understand those expectations for months or even years afterwards.  As an example, “be on time” with one manager could mean “don’t be late” but with another manager could mean ” be 10 minutes early.”  In my experience, we have a tendency to lose patience with the expectations conversation long before getting to a place of clarity and mutual ownership.  No matter how frustrating it becomes, stay with it until you arrive at a place where both parties are clear.
  • Thoughtfulness.  Many times, we aren’t sure of our expectations until someone fails to meet them.  For example, I’ve always been motivated to learn, so I would leap at any opportunity through work to learn whether it be training, a book club, or other development experience.  And, for years, I thought everyone else was motivated the same way and I didn’t communicate to my people that I expected them to take advantage of every learning opportunity available to them.  And I used to get really frustrated when I found myself managing a person who didn’t care about these types of experiences.  It took me developing some self-awareness before I recognized the need to communicate this expectation.  Creating clarity of expectations isn’t a one time process, it’s an ongoing communication.  Expectations emerge, grow and change over time and we need to pay close attention to this process.  
Becoming great at creating clarity of expectations will improve the quality of every relationship in your life.  It’s not easy, it’s not simple, and it can be messy at times–particularly when expectations are out of alignment.  Engaging in the conversations to create this alignment is one of the most important things you can do, particularly for the most important relationships in your life.  
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