All relationships work more smoothly when expectations are clear and explicit. The opposite of an explicit expectation is an implied one.
Let’s look at both personal and professional examples.
When two people become a couple, one of the issues they’ll need to navigate is holidays. Whose family do we spend this holiday with versus another?
Holidays have many implied expectations.
If you’re single in your 20s, it may be an implied expectation that you return to your parents’ home for certain holidays. Their home is the “center” of the “family.”
If you have a significant other a few years later, the question comes up regarding what the two of you will do for the holidays. Do you go to your parents’ home? Or do you go to your partner’s parents’ home?
Parents on both sides have some kind of (often implied) expectation.
You might have a certain (implied) expectation.
I might have a certain (implied) expectation.
Whose expectations will determine our holiday plans? Mine? Yours? Your parents’? My parents’?
Will you split the time half and half? Alternate years? Ignore one set of parents? Or perhaps the other?
The funny thing about expectations is that they form the basis of disappointment. You expected to get admitted to Harvard. You didn’t. You were disappointed. You expected to see your brother for the holidays. You didn’t. You were disappointed.
So, how do you navigate such a situation?
Before I answer that question, let’s look at another example.
You get hired to be the director of a department in a new company that you’ve never worked with before.
When you schedule a 9 a.m. team meeting and everyone shows up at 9:10 a.m., how do you feel? If you had the expectation that everyone would be seated at 9 a.m., then you would be disappointed.
If the company culture is that a 9 a.m. meeting actually begins at 9:10 a.m., your staff will be disappointed that you’re upset with them for being “late.”
So, how do you navigate a difference in implicit expectations?
The solution is simple: Convert implicit expectations to explicit ones.
For a holiday, you could say, “I was expecting to spend it with my family. What were you expecting?”
“Oh, you were expecting we visit your family? Looks like we have very different expectations.”
In the workplace, you could say, “Hi everyone. I’m excited to join the company. Yesterday, I noticed that everyone showed up at 9:10 a.m. for a meeting scheduled at 9 a.m. I’m accustomed to and was expecting a 9 a.m. meeting would start at 9 a.m. What were each of you expecting?”
Notice how translating implicit expectations to explicit ones makes any differences clear and obvious before further disappointment can occur.
To be even more effective in any kind of relationship, you want to not just move from implicit to explicit expectations. You also want to shift from explicit to “shared” expectations.
Shared expectations are what occur after all expectations have been made explicit and negotiation has taken place that results in all people contributing toward and agreeing to a specific expectation.
After negotiating, you and your partner decide to visit your family for the holidays in years ending in an even number and your partner’s family in the odd-numbered years.
After negotiating, you and your staff decide that being on-time at one of your meetings means showing up within five minutes of the scheduled start time.
The more explicit and jointly created the expectations, the better the relationship will be.
If you expect others to adopt your unspoken implied expectations, you’re, in essence, demanding that others be able to read your mind in order to be in an effective relationship with you.
If you force others to adopt your expectations without negotiation, you’re, in essence, asserting your power over the situation.
If you’re in a hierarchical relationship, like employer vs. employee, that might be fine.
If you’re in a relationship where you are equals, such as a friendship or an egalitarian romantic partnership, the outcome might be quite problematic, as you’re forcing a de facto hierarchy that your friend or significant other may not have agreed to or wanted. This is an effective way to breed resentment.
Being effective in your life and career involves developing skills. Managing and navigating expectations is one of a hundred different skills needed to have a successful life (in every aspect).
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