The Value of Setting Clear Expectations

Thursday, August 1 2013

Imagine you are planning dinner with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. You agree to meet at 8 PM and plan to choose the restaurant together. On your way to the meeting place you get a text from your friend, who is already at a nearby restaurant with some other people. Unfortunately you dislike this establishment, and in addition you believed the purpose of the evening was to catch up with your friend. How do you feel?

Some of us would go with the flow; but, most of us would feel frustrated, disappointed, confused and/or annoyed. When people experience any of those feelings it usually results in diminished performance.

Such situations happen at work all the time; expectations are unclear or changed without notice or consultation. It results in one or both parties experiencing negative feelings. Clear expectations are a key element of successful organizations. When setting expectations consider the following:

  • Is the expectation clear to both parties? Just because we think we are clear does not mean it is clear to others. Always ask. And double check: “Just to ensure that we are both on the same page, can you please confirm what we have just agreed?”
  • Is every aspect agreed upon? Is the person or team up to the challenge? Are you asking people to do something they don’t like and would not have agreed to in the first place?
  • Ensure a mechanism by which changing expectations and the rationale can be clearly communicated by either party. Without an explanation people can come to all sorts of conclusions. Consider the incident with your friend. Without an explanation you could be left with the sense they didn’t care. There is nothing worse than finding out, after the fact, that someone is going to miss a deadline or is not going to provide you the outcome you anticipated.
  • One of the easiest ways to build strong trusting relationships is to meet commitments and that starts with clarity upfront.

When we leave our expectations fuzzy, we give permission for others to interpret what is needed. Most of us would not do that if we were planning a vacation, so why do it at work. With empathy and forethought we can ensure great clarity and greater success.