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.
- 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.