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Expectations: Yours, Mine and Ours

Did you know there are more rules than the infamous “golden rule” which tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto you? There is the “platinum rule” which is to do unto others as they would want to be done to them, and the “bronze rule” which is “If they are not bothering you, don’t bother them.”!  Don’t ask me what happened to the “silver” rule!  Each of these rules creates a different expectation; I’m curious, which do you follow?

We all have expectations, and we all strive to live up to the expectations of others, in both our professional and personal lives. We have expectations of people, processes, companies, our electronics, and everything else in our lives.  Expectations can be as simple as expecting your Lyft ride or a package to arrive on time, and as complex as expecting someone to change their behavior based on the information you gave them.  The problem with expectations is they often lead to disappointment if they aren’t met and conflict when our expectations are different from those of others.

So where do we get these expectations? Like most things, our expectations are shaped by our past experiences, beliefs, and values. For example, if your parents taught you to work hard and earn good grades, you will very likely expect your own child to do the same.  Similarly, if you value honesty, you may expect others to be truthful with you. Or, if you always put your keys in a certain place when you get home, you might reasonably expect them to be there the next time you reach for them.  Since we all have our own set of expectations, it’s important to recognize that our expectations may not align with those of others. When expectations differ, conflict and disappointment usually follow.

One of my values is to help folks who ask for it, if I can.  A few years ago, a member of a group I belong to asked for my help and I did everything that I could. I devoted a lot of my time and even pulled a resource away from another project to help at a discounted rate. When the project ended, I sent him an invoice at a significantly reduced rate and was shocked when he short paid it. When I raised it to him, he chuckled and said it was too high. Even after I explained everything, how we did parts at no cost to support him on top of the discount, he simply did not care. I expected a member of a trusted group would deal with me fairly and I was disappointed he did not, even after I pulled out all the stops to help. Don’t worry, I did not let the experience change my expectations of myself.  I continue to help whenever I can because that is my expectation for myself!

For the most part (setting reasonable behavior aside), I don’t believe there is one set of “correct” expectations. Since everyone comes from a different set of experiences and values, it’s not always fair to expect others to behave the way we would like without at least having a discussion and agreeing jointly to those expectations (hindsight on the above example, perhaps I should have had a contract!)  This doesn’t mean that I should compromise my values or needs to meet others’ expectations, but it does mean that frank discussions and agreements can prevent problems before they occur.

To manage different expectations, it is important to communicate, understand each other’s perspectives, and handle the situation delicately. By doing so, we can work towards finding a middle ground that satisfies everyone’s needs.  Often this middle ground and the discussions that lead to it will also strengthen your relationships, which is a win for everyone!


“Different people approach the universe in different ways, but they also approach their own expectations in different ways.” – Chiwetel Ejiofor


What are your expectations?

Have a good weekend.