creating clear expectations
Corporate Culture

What Do Unclear Expectations Get You?

Colin McLain
Colin McLain
Vice President

I’m not certain where I heard this quote, but it has always stayed with me — “The source of the world’s frustration is unclear expectations.”  In business, life, or leisure, I find these words to be true. In fact, it doesn’t matter which side of the table you sit on…whether you’re the one delivering or receiving…unclear expectations are the ultimate creator of frustration.

Imagine, if you will, you’re headed to your favorite restaurant. This restaurant always delivers great food and great service. The hostess seats you. After 10 minutes, the server comes by to get your drink order. It takes another 10 minutes to receive your drinks. Frustration starts to creep in. After another 10 minutes, the server takes your order. Your frustration begins to grow. Then, 25 minutes later, the food arrives. It’s been nearly an hour since you sat down, and you’re finally getting your food! Frustration has completely taken over.

Now, imagine the same scenario, but this time the hostess defines the expectation. Hostess: “Thank you for coming out tonight. We apologize, but we’re extremely short staffed, as several of our servers and kitchen staff have called in sick. It may take us a little longer to serve you than what you are accustomed to.” Now, when the server is delayed at getting your drink order, delivering your drinks, getting your food order, and serving your food…you may still feel some frustration, but it doesn’t feel nearly as frustrating because the hostess set clear expectations. It’s a simple example, but one I believe we can all relate to.

So how can we (again, whether we’re the deliverer or receiver) avoid frustration? The answer — clearly define the expectations. It’s also imperative that if we do not “receive” clear expectations, we should “request” those expectations to be clearly defined. This is true for both parties. This practice reminds me of the Holmes Murphy Aspiration — Courageous Influence. With Courageous Influence, we’re challenged to question the status quo and often provide feedback/responses that are difficult to share and difficult to receive. It requires an act of courage to provide the expectation that should be delivered vs. the expectation that is easier to deliver or receive. While it may not be the expectation someone wants to hear, it should always be what someone needs to hear.

Below are few ways that will help us define, manage, and deliver clear expectations:

  1. Clearly Define the Goals — Unless both parties know, understand, and are working toward the same goals, someone will ultimately feel frustrated.
  2. Clearly Define the Plan of Action — Regardless of if it’s requested or not, a detailed plan of action will help you achieve the desired result.
  3. Over Communicate — If the receiver is chasing you down for updates, you’re not communicating enough.
  4. A Personal (Human) Touch — It’s not as simple as relaying the details. The personal/human interaction provides the receiver the confidence that you really care. Whether in person or over the phone, the personal/human touch is just better.
  5. Under Promise, Over Deliver — It sounds like an old cliché, but it’s true. Be honest, but conservative when setting your expectations. If you finish faster or with better results, everyone is happy in the end.

Whether it’s business, life, or leisure, a strong partnership is like riding a motorcycle. The road ahead is winding, there will be bumps, and there will be turns. Both riders must hold on tight when the road gets bumpy and lean in the same direction when the road turns. If you’re not in unison, then you’ll likely crash!

What are your thoughts? Would you agree? I’d love to hear from you on how you handle setting clear expectations…whether that’s with Holmes Murphy, with your own staff or colleagues, or even in your family!

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