“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” So said the brilliant Stephen Hawking in a magazine interview. Guess what? I’m going to disagree with a genius. Lowering your expectations, in my opinion, equates to lowering your standards. A guarantee that you won’t be disappointed, but at what cost?
Observing conflict leads me to the conclusion that when others don’t meet our expectations, relationships suffer — sometimes irreparably. I make this blanket statement regardless of the nature of the relationship. It could be a marriage or a business partnership, a landlord-tenant situation, or adult siblings caring for aging parents. We create a standard in our own minds of how we expect someone else to act, and when they don’t meet the expectation, we are, at the very least, disappointed.
When we start our sentences with “You should have . . .” or “You need to . . .” what we’re really saying is “I expected you to …” And that is where the trouble begins. So let’s take a look at how to manage our expectations, beginning with the understanding of how we create them in the first place. Simple, really: we either base our expectations on the past, or they are an assumption for the future. Because our parents taught us manners, we teach our kids to say “please” and “thank you.” When they don’t, we’re disappointed in them — they didn’t measure up to our expectations. Similarly, we assume we’re going to get a substantial end-of-the-year bonus check based on our performance, but when the number doesn’t match our expectation, we’re miserable.
Rather than set your expectations too high, or your standards too low, I offer you an alternative: set REASONABLE expectations for yourself and for others. Somewhere in between zero and reaching for the stars is “Reasonableville” and that’s where I choose to live. It’s reasonable to expect your kids to to say “please,” but it’s also reasonable to expect that sometimes they might forget. It’s reasonable to expect a nice bonus in recognition of a job well done, but it’s also reasonable that the number might not match your expectation.
Alternative methods for resolving conflict also reside in “Reasonableville.” Mediators are trained to help people brainstorm many potential solutions to a difficult situation, and it’s no exaggeration to state that every solution to a conflict comes as a result of being open to reasonable expectations. And, of course, Mediators are trained to help communicate your expectations. We know a lot of words and can suggest a way for you to express your expectation accurately and precisely.
If you’re in a conflict with someone over mismatched expectations, I can help. Set up an initial consultation with me for 30 minutes at no charge.