Clarifying expectations is one of those behaviours that we rarely pay enough attention to. Yet it would be so powerful, and it could strengthen our relationships. It is the behaviour of prevention because if you focus on this one upfront, you will avoid many heartaches and headaches later on.
So why are we hesitant when it comes to sharing what we expect from each other? I assume it is because this conversation can be challenging. We each bring our own meaning to language and experience. Meaning is not about things; it’s not even necessarily in words. Meaning is in people. So even if you and I agree on something, we need to make sure we understand the words we’re using in the same way. This might sound complicated, and yes, it is! When it comes to people and their views on something, the world is now more an uni-verse, it turns into a multi-verse.
The difference that makes the difference
Clarifying expectations not only makes a huge difference at work. It may make an equally big difference at home. If you think of your relationship with your partner, for example, consider how much disappointment and contention come from unclear or varying expectations regarding roles and responsibilities. You might take something for granted just because you have always done it that way. You don’t even get the idea that anyone could see it differently. That’s why you do not see any need to address it. The point is: the other person might have the same attitude and approach and does it his or her way. That’s how it happens, how you end up in misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and eventually in conflict.
Better than mind reading – recognise the usefulness and express yourself explicitly
Considering the following aspects might help to substantially improve your relationships at home or at work when you interact with peers, co-workers, fellows, your team, your boss or your loved ones:
- Feel the need and express your wish to clarify what is expected from each other.
- Start this kind of conversation at the very beginning of your encounter, your collaboration or the task you have to tackle, as the very first step before getting to the action.
- Clarifying expectations is always a two-way street. People have to have the opportunity to push back, to help come to an understanding that is realistic and will work from both points of view.
- “Do they know what I expect from them?” Never assume people know what you presume or anticipate. They cannot read your thoughts, no matter how long you have known each other. Start a conversation, be explicit, and listen to the other one. Proceed until you reach a mutual view or you find an agreement.
- The simple question “Do they know what they can expect from me?” might include not only deliveries, but attitudes, deliveries, behaviours, or critical success factors.
- Clear expectations are a prerequisite for being accountable afterward – vice versa.
In my experience, a conversation about each other’s expectations will have a huge impact on the quality of your relationships, the delivery of desired results, and above all, on avoiding unnecessary conflicts.