Managing Expectations - Create More Happiness and Ease

Managing expectations, both our own and those of the people in our life, creates breathing room for our experiences, allowing us to live with more certainty and calm, encouraging less reactivity, avoiding upset.

We all have expectations of people, events, our work, the movies we go to, the restaurants we eat at. Most of the time our expectations live below our subconscious mind and we do not know we had the expectation until we are either happily surprised or disappointed. Managing expectations with people does take time, however it will save you in time, energy and upset that occurs when expectations are not met.

In the graphic below when we talk about expectations, we are also talking about energy. For this example we are assuming the following.

An increase in energy (up arrow) implies that we are happy, excited, joyous- a very positive type of high energy.

Neutral energy (flat red line) implies that we are neutral in our energy. Neither up nor down. Calm, unperturbed.

A decrease in energy (down arrow) implies that we are angry, frustrated, annoyed- a negative type of high energy.

Managing Expectations - there is only one way to get a positive increase in energy

If I have an expectation that someone do something, for example, deliver me a cup of coffee exactly the way I like it every morning at 10 am, and this happens, every morning, as I expect, then we are looking at the upper left quadrant, and my energy in neutral. I am getting what I expected, no more, no less.

If however, one morning I get my cup of coffee, plus a bunch of flowers, plus some Lindt Chilli Chocolate with my coffee, my energy immediately goes up, because I was not expecting the flowers, or the chocolate (my favourite), and so I have been very pleasantly surprised. (Upper right quadrant)

If one morning I do not get my coffee delivered, or if the delivery is not the way I like it, then my energy is down and I am upset. (Lower left quadrant)

If I was never expecting a 10 am coffee delivery, and it never occurs, then my energy is neutral. (lower right)

So far so good....all simple.

Using this graphic it becomes clear that the ONLY way to have an increase in energy around expectations is to have my expectations exceeded, or, to lower my expectations, or have no expectations.

Why is managing expectations such a big deal? Why is the power of expectation so great? And why do people spend so much of their time these days frustrated, angry, and pissed off?

Many people do not manage the expectations of others well. Few people start a new job or project or team or customer relationship and actually take the time to sit together and talk about the expectations of all the parties.

What do I expect from the job? From my boss? From the company? From the customer? My expectations must cover all areas...the hard and obvious aspects, such as certain behaviours, the right equipment, adequate systems and structures, clear reporting lines; to the more esoteric and softer side...aligned values, walking the talk, consistency, care of people, etc.

What does my boss expect from me? Not just the performance measures, for this is easier to be clear on. But also the nature of our relationship. How he/she wants me to behave, dress, speak on the phone, be with others, represent the company, manage conflict, handle confusion? How much information does he need from me and how frequently? What standard of work is he expecting. Perfection, or moderate?

What does the company expect from me?

What does the customer expect from me? Do they want hands on, distance, a soft touch, lots of information, little information, efficient service, personal service...Am I crystal clear on the hard details of what they want, as well as the soft?

When we fail to manage expectations of any relationship there will be upset. (How many people have experienced this in their primary relationships, especially after marriage. I expect my wife to do X???...I expect my husband to Y...!!)

I advise anyone to consider anger and frustration as red flags for the very likelihood that an expectation has not been met. Or to put it another way, if you notice you are angry, upset or frustrated, then look at your unmet expectations.

If Mrs. Jones calls and is angry and upset, chances are she has a failed expectation.

Step one in supporting Mrs. Jones is first and foremost to really listen to Mrs.Jones. Very few service providers do this. They interrupt, try to justify, deny...and even if they have a point, their point at this stage is completely irrelevant. Mrs. Jones needs to be given the space to make her point first. And we need to not just listen, but really seek to understand Mrs. Jones and her specific upset. So listen until you are very clear about the cause and source of her upset.

Second Step. Acknowledge Mrs. Jones upset. “Mrs. Jones, I can really hear how upset you are.” Be sincere and empathetic. “Please tell me what you were expecting from us that has not happened?” And listen again. Never justify, deny, or interrupt to make your point. Only ask questions, and keep listening. If you do this well, you will notice Mrs. Jones angry tone and upset energy settle down.

Third step. When you have identified the gap between what Mrs. Jones was expecting, and what she feels she received, speak to what you can do about it. “Mrs.Jones, I hear you were expecting A, and you have received B. Here is what I can do for you...”

We can apply this same process to our own failed expectations. Take time to voice your upset, either in your inner dialogue, via writing, or by speaking this out with a willing listener or your coach. Look at what you were expecting, and then distinguish the gap.

Managing expectations is about eliminating the gap between what we expect and what happens.

Becoming a master at managing expectations of both self and others requires thoughtful consideration of all possible scenario’s. It also asks of us to think about others as we would like to be thought about.

For example, if you are managing change in the workplace which may include people loosing their jobs, managing expectations has to do with speaking about the elephant in the room. “I know you may be feeling anxious or nervous about all the changes. What I can tell you is that I don’t know any more than what you know. However, I will promise to tell you when ever I have any news.” This sounds simple, but if it is not said, people feel even more uncertain. Then we need to repeat versions of this every other day. “I still don’t have any news. I am sorry. I can understand that you may be feeling very anxious.” People want to hear this, because not saying anything is worse.

When we are offering a service, managing expectations can include things such as.

*I will get this to you by X. (Be sure to do it.)

*I will not have a chance to look at this until Y.

*Please call me if you need. If I don’t answer I will get back to you that day.

*I will be sending this to X department. They have to approve this. They usually take at least 3 weeks, sometimes longer. I will give you a call as soon as it comes back to me, but please do not expect me to call you before Y date.


On a personal level, managing expectations can be a simple reframe. For example, as a marathon runner, the usual expectation we place on ourselves is running to a time. When I ran the Sydney pre-Olympic marathon in April 2000, I had not done enough training. To build an expectation around time would have meant probable disappointment. So I reframed my expectation to one of enjoying the event. To being really present when I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, closed to traffic, or when I ran into the Olympic stadium, where they called out my name as I entered, and had a live image of me up on the big screen. Not only did I have a great time, I managed expectations to enjoy the event no matter what my time. However, the bonus was that I didn’t know until the last 200 meters that I also had exceeded my best time. So my excitement was off the charts. My expectations had been lower, and I had exceeded them.

Reframing from focusing on time to focusing on enjoying the moment allowed me to have a great event, and get my expectations met, without lowering my standards. I still gave my all during the run, I didn’t just go through the motions.

Even today, during my swim squad session, my coach gave me two times 400 meters to swim. The first one was to be fast, the second faster. My first swim was 6 minutes 35, so I was hoping for a 6 minutes 30 for the second. I worked on increasing pace each 100, and really putting down the throttle for the last 150. So my standard was high. I was thrilled and delighted and a bit in awe when I came in a 6 minutes 22.

A few years ago when I first realised that I was living my life in constant disappointment of myself, I had to really look at how I was managing expectations of self. I sat down with a pen and paper and started to list them. It took a few days of inquiry. The list was very long. No wonder each morning I woke up feeling like a failure. I had given myself an impossible task to live up to. When I started to manage expectations of self, and reframe most of them, without necessarily lowering my standards, (although sometimes this is also required. For example, if I have a standard on myself to run an Olympic level marathon time, I may need to lower my standards from completely unrealistic to something more in line with both my talent and my training commitment.) I started to be much happier. Many times I exceeded my own expectations. Sometimes this reframe can be taking smaller steps, and getting excited about achieving each step. If I am currently able to run a sub four hour marathon, then a reasonable next step may be to run a three hour forty five minute marathon. Or even a three hour fifty. Then I work to this, train for this and give it an honest effort. However, if I go for a sub three hour marathon, this may well be setting myself up for major disappointment. Managing expectations of self supports me to enjoy my life more.

Have a look at your own expectations. Observe the areas in your life where you are frustrated and upset. Observe the areas where your staff or customers are frustrated and upset. Or your spouse. Learn to be a master at managing expectations. You will know when you are doing this because you will be happy and excited more often than not. Managing expectations does create more happiness and ease.

How are you at managing expectations?

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Wow 
This article immensely exceeded my expectations . Thank you so much. I have been told my expectations are too high and I never realized how that sets others …

Just when I needed it... 
Dear Christine, Love the way this article is written. Im going to start "weighing my expectations exercise" from the very moment. Thank …

Very Practical and Applicable Not rated yet
So much is explained and I like the personal experiences. It really helps me to understand how and when to address certain things. Great Job.

Spot on! Not rated yet
I totally agree with the article. Managing expectations in all aspects of life is key to lowering the level of conflict and keeps away the burden of disappointment …

Expectations Can Be Your Friend or Your Foe - It is your call Not rated yet
This is a great article. It gets into the nuts and bolts regarding managing expectations. An underlying premise of this article that is not spoken is …

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