Why Expectations Can Be Dangerous – And What To Do Instead

I could tell there was something out of whack.

Ever had that sense when you’re with others?

There were false smiles and meaningless chatter as they bustled around doing … something … mostly just being busy. But there was a chill in the air. Oh, the temperature in the training room was fine. It was something else. I sensed that everyone felt it. And I sensed that it had become a normal part of their workplace – not comfortable or enjoyable, but normal.

I felt like shouting, “Just stop, cut the crap, and talk to each other honestly.” But that might have been a bit blunt, wouldn’t it? Not a great way to build rapport.

As we worked through the day, the transformations happened when people eventually dispelled their imaginary, self-created, and delusional walls of expectations.

Expectations – nasty, slimy, prickly creatures that jump between two people and keep them from having a relationship with each other. The relationship is with the expectation. I’m going to say it in another way. When you place your expectations upon another person, you have a relationship with those expectations, rather than with the real, live, amazing, creative, and potential-full human being.

Don’t take me wrongly. Expectations are a powerful tool when I am setting goals for myself. I visualize and expect I will achieve them. And I have expectations for myself in regard to how I conduct myself. And I expect that Natural Laws, such as gravity, will work. That’s why this morning the snow slid off the roof onto my head.

However, anytime I place my expectations on someone else, where I expect her to think or speak or act in a way that I’ve decided she should, I’m on a slippery slope. And gravity will take me into an abyss where I don’t want to be. On that slope, it can be easy (and tempting) to blame and attack the other person, either overtly or covertly. In fact, that’s what usually happens. One attack leads to a counter-attack and ladies and gentlemen, let the games begin.

You might be thinking about someone right now and saying, “But it’s part of his job description so we expect that.” Or you might be thinking, “Everybody knows that’s how you behave and we expect her to do that.”

Rather than expectations, I invite you to consider these agreements that you can do something about. The difference between an expectation and an agreement may seem small, yet the implications are huge.

If the duty or behaviour is an agreement, such as part of a job description, the terms need to be clearly communicated and both parties must agree to the terms. If I have not been clear in my communication of the agreement, the other person may not know the specifics of their responsibilities. Or from the flip side, if I am uncertain about my responsibilities or how I am to act, it is up to me to ask questions and gain clarity so I can fulfil my obligations of the agreement.

An agreement takes two people communicating, negotiating, and designing terms that both promise to fulfill. There is an intent to work together to create desired results. The relationship is between two people. It’s co-operative.

An expectation is one person placing self-made obligations on the other person, without the other person’s input, understanding, consent, or even knowing the obligations are there. The intent (not usually consciously) is to force my “right” way upon another person. The relationship is with the expectation. It’s dictatorial.

Which sounds most effective in your workplace or at home?

Are you up for a challenge?

If you choose to accept it, here it is. Every time you feel frustrated, ticked, or angry because of someone else’s behaviour, stop and evaluate if the behaviour is part of an agreement or your own expectation. Then do one of the following:

1. If it is part of an agreement, such as a job description or responsibilities of a family or community group, stop, and talk honestly to the person about the specifics of the agreement. Ask questions, listen to understand, and work together to clarify the required behaviour to be effective and create the mutually agreed upon results. Agree to what both people will do and agree to the consequences of not following through. In some situations, writing the agreement may be helpful, with both signatures. Both people will feel valued, and valuable, because the agreement is clear, understood, and mutually designed.

2. If your ticked-offness is a self-created expectation of what the other person “should” do, imagine holding the expectation in the palm of your hand, and with a slow deep breath of forgiveness and kindness, blow it away – fooof it. (When our sons were little, they described blowing out a candle as “fooof it.”) Then focus your attention and intention as you build the relationship with the real human being.

This is not rocket-science. It’s a basic technology of love that I believe we all inherently know. However, in the hubbub of life, it can be easy to forget to apply.

And just imagine how clear and clean and joyous and fun your relationships can be when you fooof away those illusory expectations.

So my friend, go ahead and fooof it.