Monday, December 12, 2011

Expect More From Your Expectations

Have you ever had someone upset with you and had no idea why? We've all been there. It happens at work, at home and with our friends. The culprit? Expectations. Either an expectation hasn't been shared or it hasn't been defined. Where you find an unmet expectation you will almost always find an upset person.

So what can you do to uncover these elusive expectations? You could ask, but sometimes they don't even know they were expecting something of you. One of the best ways to understand the role expectations have in our lives is to understand the expectations you have of others. The following are three areas you can start working towards clearly defining your expectations of for others.


One of the most important aspects of delegation is defining a timeline. There are two timelines that need to be defined. The first is the due date of the task you are delegating. If you ask someone to get something done "when they get around to it," then you can't get upset with them when they don't get it done "when you wanted them to get around to it." Be clear with deadlines and make sure they know what to do if the timeline needs to be altered.

Setting clear expectations about how and when you will check in on someone working on a task can avoid distracting miscommunications down the road. I shared this tip with one of my classes and a man became very upset with me. He said he had told his employee that he would check in with them "every once in a while" on a project that should take six months to complete, yet the person was still frustrated with him. I asked him how often he was checking in with the person and he said he was checking in every two days. The rest of the class started laughing.

The class had seen what he missed. He had failed to define the expectation clearly. He should have said he would check in every two days. Then they could have resolved the issue right on the spot.


Orientation of new employees is a valuable opportunity to define both short-term and long-term expectations. This is particularly important when you have historically had specific issues at your organization with new hires. By defining expectations during the on-boarding you can help to prevent these issues. Examples of expectations to define could include cell phone usage, internet usage, attendance policies, behavior expectations and dress code.

Many organizations have employee handbooks that the employees are required to read and sign. However, the expectations still should be discussed with the employee with real world examples. The reality is that a handful of employees will not read the handbook; some will not fully understand the expectations and many others will have questions they will never ask. By giving them the handbooks and explaining the expectations in person the level of understanding will improve.


This is one of the most important times to define expectations. Since discipline is a form of conflict, or at best an uncomfortable conversation; leaders tend to try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. The problem is that the disciplinary action occurred because of expectations not being met in the first place. This means a better job of defining expectations needs to be done to help prevent repeating the violation.

Of course, the employee knows that they failed to meet expectations. However, it's critical to reinforce the exact expectations you have of the employee. Perhaps more importantly you have to tell them what the next step will be if they fail to meet expectations again. This helps to avoid a high level conflict where the employee is shocked at the level of discipline they receive next time they violate the expectations.

Of course there are countless areas where we can improve on defining our expectations for others. When we put in the work to do this we improve our ability to identify the expectations others have of us. The best part is that your expectations might just get met more often.

Anthony Miller is the President of Stepping Stone Solutions. His company focuses on educating all levels of organizations to have outstanding and meaningful workplace communication skills. He can be reached with questions at or 504-421-1936. Follow us on Twitter @SSSTweets and on

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