For those of you who have lived with a partner or spouse, has this ever happened to you? It’s Saturday, you have a full day of errands to run and you ask your partner to take care of a few things around the house. When you return with arms full of groceries, dry cleaning and bulk toilet paper, you find your partner sitting in the exact same spot that you left them. Moreover, it would appear that the ‘honey do’ list is not even started, yet alone complete. Your expectations have been totally unmet. Does this sound familiar?

No, I am not throwing Mark under the bus here. I found out years ago that we needed better communication skills when this happened and I needed to be better at adjusting my expectations. In fact, many times, he had actually completed a full day of tasks and had just sat down to relax before I walked in the door! Another key learning was our timetables. My expectation included immediate action, while his expectation was that he would get it done by the end of the weekend. There were many unnecessary tiffs in this area during the child rearing years of our marriage, all due to differing expectations.

Managing Expectations

One of the most common issues I have found with clients working through team and leadership development is the issue of Managing Expectations. And it never fails, that when expectations are unmet, it is always because they were not fully understood.  Even more, they were not fully committed to in the beginning. Whose responsibility is this, the one setting the expectation, or the one trying to fulfill it?

The answer is BOTH, and it depends.

Of course it depends on whether we’re talking about a work situation with the expectations of a boss or client, or a life situation with your partner. But in both cases, it’s important not to hide any expectations if you can help it and be as open, transparent, and thorough with your request as you can. Here’s the top 5 tips for Managing Expectations as a requestor and the one fulfilling expectations:

Communicating Your Expectations

  • Make sure you are clear about the task and the timing. What is the due date or time and why? Understanding your needs is important to the person who is trying to meet your expectations.
  • What are the possible barriers or challenges which may get in the way of meeting your expectations? Talk about this and ask how the person might overcome these along the way.
  • Know the difference between a capacity issue and a capability issue for the person you are asking. They may have all the time in the world, but they may not know how to do it. Give them the tools and resources they need to be successful.
  • Be clear about what you don’t want and what is out of bounds. You don’t want them wasting their time on things that are not important to you.
  • Paint a clear picture of what success looks like. Be as detailed as you can and paint the entire picture, not just pieces of it. You may even ask them to clarify what they think a successful outcome looks like, so that you both confirm understanding.

Confirming Expectations

  • Understand the task and the timing required. If you aren’t sure, ask. If they haven’t given you a deadline, ask for one or suggest one.
  • What are the possible barriers or challenges, which may get in the way of meeting their expectations? Are there any risks that need to be managed? Talk about these and agree as to how they will be dealt with.
  • If there are pieces of the task that you aren’t sure about, you don’t have time for, or you don’t have the capability, communicate that to the requestor and make a proposal to mitigate. You still want to be proactive and offer solutions, but don’t pretend you’ll get it done if you don’t have a clue how.
  • Clarify what is being asked by the requestor by putting it in your own words, stating what you will do, what they will do, what you won’t do, and what they won’t do.
  • Determine what communications are necessary along the way. Are there milestones? What should you do if you run into a barrier? How often do they need an update on the progress?
  • One more! If possible—always over deliver! Anticipate next steps and do more, or deliver faster than you promised. They’ll love you and your credibility will soar.