From Violated Expectations to Shared Expectations

An organization is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear. ~Herb Kelleher

I sat at a client’s dining room table. Three business partners had hired me to help develop their business plan. One of the partners had confided in me an intense frustration with the partner salary arrangement. While gathered around the dining table, in the home of one of the partners, I brought up the salary arrangement and asked how they were all feeling about it. Silence. I went around the table asking each partner if they were okay with it. Everyone said it was fine. I probed one more time, and still, nothing.

Violated Expectations

Over the years, I’ve listened to many employees tell me their real frustrations with their supervisor and/or organization. So much frustration that they were planning to leave. But, they also had no intention of actually telling anyone at their organization how they really felt.

A CFO worked at a nonprofit for decades. This CFO prided themselves on being the person who “made the tough decisions.” Those “tough decisions” were perceived as being controlling, insensitive, and rude. But, no one ever said anything, they all just let the unhelpful behavior continue.

Early in my career, an employee would literally hide when he saw me coming. I had no idea that my management style was causing him great anxiety. Until, one day a colleague (not my supervisor) called me into his office to let me know this employee was fearful of me and I was a significant source of stress. I was so grateful!    

Author Anne Lamott said, “expectations are resentments in waiting.” When those expectations are violated, conflict arises.

All of the examples I provided are illustrations of expectations being violated, which created resentment.

Shared Expectations

For reasons I’m still sorting through, we seem to hesitate to engage in dialogue that would result in shared expectations. I believe that creating shared expectations is the hard work of love, and it’s what can make every relationship (personal or professional) stronger. Bound by love rather than by fear.

I think some of the reasons we don’t create shared expectations is that we

  • assume shared expectations exist, when in reality they don’t,
  • assume it’s so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated,
  • fear that stating differences will result in conflict so we leave it unsaid,
  • fear that feelings will be hurt so we leave it unsaid,
  • don’t want to feel uncomfortable in the midst of a dialogue, or
  • are simply impatient and don’t see the value in investing time in dialogue around expectations.

Again, as Anne Lamott said, “expectations are resentments in waiting.” Those resentments can be avoided by acting with bold grace and doing the hard work of creating shared expectations.

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