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What Do You Expect?

The great English poet, Alexander Pope once said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”  No expectations; no disappointment! Wouldn’t that be a fantastic life!

However, the reality for most us is just the opposite. We run with high expectations, and as a result, we often live with significant disappointments. Especially when we live in a culture that is dramatically different than our norm, or our spouse or partner views the world ever so different than we do.


Antonio Banderas captured it well when he said, “Expectation is the Mother of all Frustration!”

I am reminded of this every time I get behind the wheel. After driving in China for four years I often still expect others to drive as thoughtfully aware as I do. Rarely are my expectations met. I get so disappointed (angry even!) when drivers creep along at 50 km/h in the left lane of a major highway. Or worse yet decide at the last second to cut across four lanes of traffic to exit the highway. “Arghhh”, I say, as I coach the driver with several blasts of my horn.

The question we should ask, are our expectations realistic or unrealistic? Given the context of the other person; their cultural roots, personality strengths or weaknesses, biases, etc., can we really expect them to deliver according to our expectations?

If we believe our expectations are realistic, yet the other party consistently fails to deliver, we quickly lose hope that things will ever be different. At this point we tend to give up, and either terminate the relationship, or stay in the relationship, but emotionally detach.

Those darn emotions! Like it or not, they are intimately woven into our expectations. When expectations are met, our accompanying emotions can provide so much joy and excitement in life.

For example, think about the anticipation of getting on a plane, flying to a peaceful beach, where the waves lap at your feet, as you drink a Margarita and watch sun drop over the horizon. You can hardly wait to get on the plane and leave the challenges of life behind.

However, if on that trip your plane is delayed a day, your luggage is lost, the hotel loses your reservation, and a monsoon blows across your otherwise peaceful beach...

It is, however, possible for us to manage our expectations in such a way that we reduce disappointments, and increase the “enjoy life” factor.

(i) Quick Self-Assessment. Make a list of the relationships that consume 80% of your time (e.g. spouse, children, customers, colleague, etc.). Then create a simple chart with 3 columns to the right of your list. Title the columns Expectations, Met/Unmet and Realistic/Unrealistic. Complete the chart.

(ii) Analysis. What would happen if you adjusted your expectations? Can you still maintain quality or values that are important? Does the other party even know your expectations? Is it possible that your way isn’t the only way to achieve results that both parties can agree to?

(iii) Adjustment or Calibration. Few of us like to change or reduce our expectations. And there are times when ought not to. More often than not, it’s the very right thing to do.


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