One of the more common sources of conflict in relationships is around expectations, mainly those that are unclear or unspoken. It should be simple for us to state our expectations, but because it’s not always easy, many of us fail to do it. Why is that the case?
When we set expectations, we are telling someone what we want, desire, or need (or sometimes what we don’t), but we don’t want to come across as pushy, overbearing, demanding, or needy. There’s risk involved. By setting expectations, we are putting a stake in the ground, drawing a line in the sand, setting a boundary, or in some way putting ourselves on the line. When we do, we need to figure out how to respond when our expectations aren’t met and how to address it with the other person in a way that’s healthy. All of these (and more) may be thoughts going through our mind, but the question we need to ask ourselves is, what am I gaining and what am I losing by not stating my expectations?
I guess one way we gain by not sharing our expectations is that we never need to worry about them not being met by someone else. Well, if that were true, then unspoken expectations would not be a source of tension. In reality, they are a source of tension because whether we share our expectations or not, they are still our expectations, and we, by definition, expect them to be met one way or another. So, when they are not met, we become frustrated, angry, or upset. Our relationship suffers as a result.
When we set and clearly share our expectations with our spouse or those who work with us, we actually provide them with a goal or target. We provide them direction, not specific instructions about how to accomplish the task (although they could be included in setting expectations), but more about what you want them to accomplish. Then they know what’s expected and don’t have to guess! The key is to keep expectations simple, or at least clear, and not to have so many that it becomes near impossible for someone to meet them and keep track of them. Oh, and if or when your expectations change, be sure to let them know right away. Otherwise, they become unspoken expectations that they have no chance of meeting.
Once you’ve share your expectation, it is just as important to confirm that the other person understands them. This can take the shape of a simple question like: “Are you clear about what I am asking?” or “What questions do you have about what I’m expecting?” Of course, this needs to be asked in a posture and tone of openness so that the other person doesn’t feel that he or she will be belittled or berated for asking a question for clarification.
If things aren’t getting done in the way you expect, take an honest self-assessment by asking yourself if you are providing your expectations, or whether you are being clear when you do. If not, spend some time to consider and write down what you expect. Then, take the simple step of sharing your expectations, clearly and concisely. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes at work and in your marriage and family!