Have you ever made a great plan, and felt prepared as you got started, only to have it fall apart in the middle and end up disappointed by the outcome? Really, who hasn’t had this experience? It is such a frustrating feeling! All too often, the path towards goals is derailed by unrealistic or poorly managed expectations. This is true whether you’re striving for achievement in your personal life or in business, and just about the single most important part of maintaining good relationships with clients. Planning for success must include a focus on measuring and creating balance in expectations. “Folks who know how to manage expectations are able to more seamlessly navigate the choppy waters of their business. Why? Because they know how to communicate, organize, and direct conversations around things getting done.” Janine Popick CMO, Dasheroo;
So what is it all about? There are so many times in life where our expectations strongly affect the outcomes of whatever we are trying to do. “[Managing expectations] is so central to our lives,” said David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work (HarperCollins, 2009). There are two sides to expectations, what we expect of others and what we expect from ourselves. Those ideas deeply affect our experiences, and how well we can pursue goals.
For example, your personal goal may be to get more physically fit; it’s probably one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. So you might set out on January 1st with a lot of motivation and willpower, excited to see the results of your hard work. If you were expecting to look like Wonder Woman or Thor within a month, and all you managed was to lose ten pounds but look basically the same, you’re going to be pretty disappointed in yourself come February. This will cause a significant loss of motivation, and is just all-around totally counterproductive. If, instead, you had expected to lose 8 pounds and then realized that you lost 10, you’re going to feel doubly motivated, proud, pleased, satisfied, and ready to keep going. Same outcome, different perspective when setting out. The positive outcomes of the managed perspective when setting a goal cannot be overstated. It creates a healthy emotion around your tasks; when you’re feeling motivated and good about your accomplishments, you are well on the path to maintaining the consistency that will get you where you want to go. Maybe you can’t look like an action hero in one month, but imagine what you can do in two years! Multiple, large-scale studies have shown that well-managed expectations contribute heavily to positive outcomes in every area of health, learning, business, and practically any other area you can imagine. Mr. Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, which aims to improve leadership through brain research, says there is a physiological consequence to feeling disappointed - the brain lowers our dopamine output, which is unpleasant, almost to the point of painful. Basically, we get slightly happy when we get something we expect, but we get ten times more unhappy when we don’t get something that we expected to get. For example, the other day, I saw a really nice office chair at the store for a great price. I hadn’t been looking, but this one was a beauty, and I could really use a new one. I was already picturing it at my desk, when I realized another shopper had already pulled the ‘large furniture’ tag off, and claimed it, and of course it was the last one. Now a week later, I am still wishing for a new chair, something I hadn’t even been thinking about before. Having my new-chair hopes dashed was a much more negative feeling than if I had never expected to get a new chair, so now, I guess I have to go chair shopping. When developing healthy relationships with clients, it is important to keep in mind that while they will be mildly satisfied by met expectations, they will experience an actual neurological sense of pain when their expectations are not met. While we all want to exceed our clients’ and business partners’ expectations, we must never ever fail to meet them. This is where managing them comes in. What are the best ways to avoid these pitfalls? Never Assume Anything Problems will develop when there is any lack of mutual understanding between people involved with a situation. Whether working with your team members or your clients, it is crucial to be clear about expectations of outcomes, how success will be measured, what the deadlines are, and each person’s specific obligations. It’s easy to get into a difficult situation when you assume someone else understands the task or project exactly the way you do. How do you avoid assumptions? It’s all down to... Communication You might have each person write down their expectations for the project and hold a meeting to compare. You will want to build in ample time for question and answer sessions, and/or a progress check-in as things go along. Calibrating expectations requires mutual understanding, with everyone being on the same page, both figuratively and literally, with written details that you all agree on. Contracts and scheduling are important in this respect, and you want to always avoid any vagueness in your communication (being vague leads to assumptions of someone else’s understanding, which must be avoided at all costs). Everyone involved in a project should have a clear understanding of all of the related S.M.A.R.T. goals. Know what you can control You have to be able to say “no,” but with tact and grace so it doesn’t sound like “no”. Maybe, you’re able to say “Yes, but…” or “sure we can do that, with a longer time frame/bigger budget.” You may not always be able to create the unicorns and rainbows some clients ask for, or maybe you can but it isn’t affordable for them, or practical, or even a good idea in your judgment. With clients, the importance of cheerfully encouraging them to understand what is realistic and possible within the constraints of time and economics is paramount. Under no circumstance should you promise rainbows and unicorns, if you KNOW it’s simply not possible within the parameters of your obligations. You will only be setting up the relationship to fail. You may need to reduce your work commitments to balance better your personal life, or vice versa (for me, this calculation happens quite regularly). It may take difficult self-evaluation to know what you can handle, but it’s much worse to agree to something and not do it, than to set an expectation at the outset that it isn’t possible. By the same token, expectations should be constantly tweaked as new factors develop. Keep your expectations realistic So once you’ve considered and evaluated the expectations you have of yourself, and those between you and your clients and partners, your ongoing challenge is to calibrate for balance. They should never be too high nor too low, and you have to continuously check in and tweak as circumstances change. Build in time to evaluate your clients’ satisfaction, as well as your own, so that you can adjust accordingly.
The cliché when handling client expectations is that there is “fast, cheap, and good, and you can only choose two.” In reality you can use communication to strike the perfect balance for your own situation, and your clients’ needs. The ability to skillfully manage expectations is one of the most important, yet often overlooked aspects of achieving success. With practice, it will be one of the most important skills you can develop in your approach to setting and meeting goals. References: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/your-money/the-importance-of-setting-expectations-whether-high-or-low.html