Managing Your Expectations
Have you ever had that experience where you had an expectation about how something would go, it didn’t go that way, and you got upset or annoyed? Maybe I should ask if you’ve had that experience yet today… 🙂
Of course you’ve had that experience! We all have!! And it’s not any fun! It seems like we have no control over what’s happening and no way to make it ‘better’ unless we get upset. Sometimes it may even seem like the way we’re reacting is beyond what might be considered a reasonable response and yet we still react…
The thing is, most of the time we’re not aware of that; we’re not aware that the reason we’re reacting is due to our expectations not being met. In fact, I bet if you really take a close look you’d see that you often don’t even notice you have expectations! I bet most of the time you just think ‘that’s how things should be’ as opposed to realizing you actually have an expectation about how things should be….
Let’s break this down a little. Let’s say you have plans to go to a surprise birthday party for a good friend of yours. The deal is that the guest of honour will arrive at 8pm so you need to get there, get parked in a hidden location, and get into the party before 8. You plan to get there by 7:30 just to be sure. Let’s say you even check traffic reports to make sure that you aren’t late…
You get in your car, you’re on your way, and as soon as you get on the major thoroughfare traffic slows to crawl. After 10 minutes of not making any progress you start to get a little frustrated – maybe you go from a 0 to a 2. After 15 minutes of sitting in traffic with no information about what’s going on and no sign of things changing and no possibility of taking a different route because you’re stuck between exits, you get a little more frustrated – maybe you go from a 2 to a 5…
See where I’m going with this?
You had an expectation about how your drive and your arrival at the party were going to go – you planned for it and did your best to make it happen that way. Things didn’t go as you expected and you reacted to your expectation not being met. Of course you did – who wouldn’t?
Ok. So what’s my point? Well I guess I have two of them:
Your ‘upset’ reaction comes from unmet expectations. Depending on how frequently you’re getting upset you might want to check your expectations… That’s a conversation for another day though.
The other point I want to make is about how ineffective the reaction is to solving the issue…
If we go back to the traffic and surprise party example, it’s easy to see how getting upset in your car about the traffic doesn’t do anything effective, it won’t change anything. Getting upset about the traffic – THAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE – will only negatively impact your evening! In fact you’ll probably carry some level of that upset into the party with you! Depending on how late you are, you may even carry some level of guilt with you into the party! Not a great thing to bring to a party at all!! After all, the party isn’t about you and your crappy traffic experience. It’s about the birthday person and the fact they’re celebrating a personal new year!!
The deal is that you can’t change the traffic situation. You did everything you could to make sure you were going to be at the party in time for the surprise and it’s clear that’s not going to happen. Getting upset won’t do anything except increase your blood pressure.
What can you do instead?
Well let’s look – what can you do instead? In this situation, what can you DO to deal with the situation? We’re clear that you can’t do anything to change what’s already happened: you can’t leave earlier, you can’t take a different route… you can’t change what’s already happened. So what can you do now to make a difference in the situation?
One thing certainly comes to mind: Call or text the host and let them know what’s up. COMMUNICATE what’s going on.
In this case letting the relevant parties know what’s going on will be important to minimize the impact you’re going to have on the evening.
At this point you might be asking yourself why I’m blabbering on about this anyway… If you know me at all you know I generally don’t talk about light topics like the annoyance of unexpected traffic and being late to parties. So let’s get into what I really want to talk about here…
What about when you have an expectation about something a little more consequential or significant than traffic and parties? What about when you have expectations about people – like your spouse, child, or business partner – and they don’t meet the expectations? What about when someone you care about hurts your feelings because they acted in a way that was different than what you’d come to expect from them?
Do you even recognize that you have expectations?
Are they reasonable?
Have you properly communicated them?
Have the expectations been agreed to by everyone?
If they have, how is your reaction impacting the situation?
Is it making the situation better for you and the other person?
In relationships we often tend to want to go back and rehash what happened and why it happened and how it happened and be angry and hurt and upset and somehow make the other person feel bad about what happened….
And if you want to build the relationship up instead of create drama and dysfunction, I promise you that a rehash ain’t the way to do it.
Sure you need to look at what went wrong, and everyone needs to take ownership of what they did to create the unmet expectation. Then, rather than hashing out if the person is a jerk or not, why not look at what you’re going to do about it now to repair the damage and then what you’re going to do to prevent it from happening again in the future? A much more effective plan for creating happy and healthy relationships.
Here’s a basic structure:
- Notice that you’re upset.
- Ask yourself what you’re upset about and what your expectation of the situation was.
- Look to see if your expectations were reasonable. Had you properly communicated them? Had the other party agreed to them? If not, you have some work to do and you may not have any ground to stand on in your reaction. If they had agreed to your expectations and then failed to maintain their integrity about that, you might want read this article about how to effectively restore integrity.
- Determine what needs to happen to prevent the same kind of upset reaction from happening again in the future. That might include establishing clear expectations and making sure everyone is on the same page. It could be that you and the other person are on different pages and getting clear about that and then agreeing to disagree might be what’s needed here. Clarity in these situations makes a HUGE difference!!
- Move on.
In essence this is a pretty basic process. When it comes to expectations, people, and relationships sometimes there are deeper things going on and this can be a great way to get started in figuring that out.
I’d love to hear from you and where your expectations can hijack you and what you’ve done to deal with them in your life. Hit reply and send me an email or add a comment and start a conversation!!
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