the art of expectations

Expectations.  We all have them.  We have expectations of ourselves, of others, of tangible and intangible things.  Expectations impact the work that we do on a daily basis.  Sometimes expectations encourage us to strive for excellence.  Other times, expectations leave us feeling inadequate and ashamed.

Before I unpack this, a definition of “expectations” is necessary.
According to Google, expectations (noun) can be defined as:
1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

I recently attended the GLACUHO webinar; “Setting Expectations, Setting Up Success.”  The presenters focused on expectations for residence life student staff, but a lot of the content was applicable to many of the people (supervisors, colleagues, friends, spouses, etc.), and things, we have expectations of.   Not surprisingly, the take-away message was to generate dialogue when crafting expectations and to clearly communicate your expectations with those they apply to.

This webinar made me think.  How do we know when our expectations have been met? And how do we react to unmet expectations? I like to think that I am very clear in my professional expectations at work, but know that I can do more to communicate my expectations at home and in my personal life.

I often find myself asking: “Are my expectations too high?”  I have a tendency to work out the plans and details of events (vacations, birthdays, career moves, and so on) in my head and find that I’m often disappointed when reality does not match my expectations.  Being incredibly detail-oriented does not always serve me well in this regard.

I remember being in high school, and wanting to arrange a fantastic getaway for my group of friends over the Christmas break.  Everyone showed enthusiasm, and I took that as the “go-ahead” to start the planning process.  As an avid skier, Whistler, British Columbia seemed to be the perfect location for our fabulous getaway.  I ordered travel catalogues and researched accommodation options.  I looked into flights and other travel arrangements and presented my friends with a very detailed outline of our options.  Suddenly, plans fell apart.  No one would commit and in the end, we didn’t go anywhere.  I was obviously disappointed and felt that my hard work had gone unnoticed.

I can think back and conjure up a number of other examples similar to the one above.  Because I am so concerned with details and planning, I do not like surprises.  I assume that the surprise will not live up to my expectations, so why bother?  I often get caught in a catch-22 though.  I feel that I shouldn’t have to tell those that are nearest and dearest to me what I want, but then am disappointed if my expectations aren’t met.

When I think about this in a professional setting, it is absurd! I would never assume that  my staff could read my mind and intrinsically know what I expect of them.  Instead, I complete an expectations exercise with colourful post-it notes, where each person writes out their expectations of themselves, their colleagues and of me, their supervisor.  While I’m sure my husband would look at me strangely if I got out the post-it notes at home (then again, maybe not, he’s a student affairs professional too), I know that I need to be more clear about my expectations at home.  I strongly subscribe to the idea that I do not expect my staff to do anything that I myself am not willing to do.  I need to bring this into my personal life as well. This is something I am working on.

Expectations are a funny thing.  We all expect different things.  This is why it is crucial to discuss our expectations with others, both in a professional and personal setting.

How do you communicate your expectations of others?