The Real Reason It’s Important to Manage Expectations In Life And At Work

Expectations are a dicey subject. There have been expansive debates over how healthy they
are for relationships, workload, and personal well-being. And then, I had an experience that
really got me thinking about why it’s important to manage expectations.

It’s 7 pm in London. Two young women in evening dresses and high heels are running down
the road trying to flag down a taxi. 

 Ever since we were little, my older sister and I dreamt of watching the Broadway show
Wicked. We would sit in front of YouTube singing “Defying Gravity” at the top of our lungs,
word for word. Thanks to a well-due visit of mine to the UK, this dream was coming true for
us. Only it was not quite in the way we’d imagined.

Trains were delayed. Taking the bus would double the time it took to get to the theatre. We
were starting to worry that we could miss our show…and so, there we are, racing through
London’s streets, hailing down a cab. By this time, it had become evident that we’d be late,
and they could very well close the doors, which might mean we’d miss our show. This
possibility was dawning on us quickly. “No way,” I thought to myself, “We won’t miss it.
We just can’t.” To me, the idea of not making it on time wasn’t an option. 
 My sister shows me the time on her phone. 5 minutes before the doors close. “Can you just
stop here?” I ask the driver, seeing the traffic ahead and knowing that the theatre was just
down the next road. And so, we get out and start running again. Hairdos had come undone,
lipstick rubbed off, and all sense of elegance we had thoughtfully applied was thrown out the

We were too late. Holding back tears, we nodded while listening to the security as they
kindly explained their latecomer’s policy meant we’d miss 25 minutes of the show. 

Once we made it to our seats, we had a wonderful time. But the whole experience somehow
felt tainted. This dream that finally came true was tarnished by tears and disappointment. It
wasn’t the fairy tale we’d imagined. This reality felt really sad to me, but it was nothing I
could change. The experience would forever be a disappointment…unless I let go of my pre-
set expectation.

 But how do you do that? And what does it take to manage expectations?

Expectations vs Standards

Although they can cross lines, these are not the same thing. A standard is what someone sees
as an acceptable level of quality. These are usually fairly personal, although they are also
commonly influenced by society. 
We often use standards to base our judgment of quality on one thing in comparison to
another. For example, if “good coffee” is to me only coffee that meets the standard of my

favourite coffee from down the road, I’ll use this to base my opinion on all other coffees I
taste to decide whether it’s good or not.

Expectations are slightly different. An expectation is what we believe, or expect, will
happen. For example, I might expect my cappuccino to taste as delicious as it always does.
But as I sip it, I’m met with heavy disappointment. The coffee is too weak, and it’s cold; not
what I expect from the place I set my standards against. It didn’t live up to my preset,
imagined experience.

Someone might argue that expectations and standards are tied and that standards inform our expectations. Whether or not it’s true, I think we can agree they are different in nature.

Expectations vs Reality

The Real Reason It's Important To Manage Expectations In Life And At Work

Because expectations are a reasonably firm belief that something will go the way we’ve
imagined, they can bring great disappointment when they aren’t met.

But here’s the catch. When an expectation isn’t met, we’re more likely to see others’
wrongdoings over ours and start pointing fingers. We begin to play the blame game, resisting
the idea that we had a part to play. But we can rectify this distortion by evaluating ourselves
and asking helpful questions such as,

– Were my expectations realistic, or unrealistic? Were they helpful, or harmful? 
 – Did I communicate my expectations clearly? 
 – What role do I play in this? 
 – In retrospect, what role should I have played in this? 
 – What is this expectation trying to serve for me – and is it helpful and healthy?

I’m going to give you two examples here, that we’ll revisit later in the blog: 
 1) A man comes home from work. He’s exhausted and expecting a clean home and cooked
supper, only to find a chaotic house and nothing on the stove. He is surprised because his
partner has been home all day. Feelings of disappointment and anger arise, as well as
thoughts that tell him the workload is unfairly weighing on his shoulders. 
 2) A woman arrives at work, feeling light in spirit and unbothered. She is expecting a pile of
work to be waiting on her desk from her colleague whom she routinely asks for help. This
colleague has previously volunteered to do the work, so when she finds out it’s not been
done, she is met with heavy disappointment, resentment, and frustration.

Expectations & Perspective

Expectations happen on a daily basis, and I don’t think there’s a way to escape them
completely. But what is important, is knowing how to manage expectations when they are
Many areas of life are unpredictable. Remember, this world is a blend of billions of people’s
experiences and choices. Often, we need to create space for the unpredictable side of life to
unfold. Knowing things might not go as you planned allows you to prepare for alternate

Loosen your grip on the expectations you have over unpredictable things. It is hard to do
when you feel like your expectation serves you. But by holding onto it, you can stop yourself
from moving forward into new seasons, opportunities, and experiences. The world is full of
spontaneous happenings. Don’t be surprised when one comes your way.

Expectations & Others

When it comes to expectations within relationships, we’re probably looking at one of the
‘birthplaces of bickering.’

Tony Robbins shares in his blog about healthy expectations within relationships that there
are realistic and unrealistic expectations within relationships. Realistic ones are generally tied
to things such as mutual respect, love, trust, appreciation, and intimate connection. We all
deserve these, and they are standards we shouldn’t drop.
Unrealistic expectations are ones that have not been communicated, do not include an equal
give-and-take, or expect perfection with little room for failure.

The Real Reason It's Important To Manage Expectations In Life And At Work

Tony Robbins says something incredible:
 “Turn your expectations into appreciation and your whole life will change.” 

So, let’s apply the above two principles of perspective and appreciation to the example I
shared about the man who comes home to a messy house and no supper.

Let’s say the man decides to gain perspective by paying attention and becoming aware of his
partner’s energy, who he shortly notices is looking very tired. He asks about her day and
learns that their child was sick and came home from school early. She then had a last-minute
meeting to attend that shortened the deadline on her project, meaning work had soaked up any free time she might’ve had to do other things. Perspective has allowed him to enter her world and painted a full picture. Appreciation is now free to flow and the man acknowledges the sacrifices and efforts she has undergone that day. Suddenly, the house and food don’t seem to be such a big deal. 

Appreciation is the antidote for resentment.

Expectation & Work

Work doesn’t exist without expectations from your colleagues, boss, and clients. And often
it’s important you meet them to maintain satisfaction and progress.

But expectations can be easily misunderstood if there is a lack of clarity around them. This
conversation takes us to a card from our product Resilience In A Box, called Clear Expectation.

In this card we describe a healthy way to manage expectations: 
 1) Create alignment. When something really matters, make sure you’re on the same page
by seeing and understanding another’s viewpoint.

2) Don’t assume the other person is at fault when it goes wrong. Consider the saying,
“The meaning of my communication is the response I get back.” Learn through your failings.

3) When you experience unexpected tension, test whether expectation gaps are at play.
If there are some, have a conversation to create clarity around these and communicate
whether these expectations can or cannot be met. It might be a tough conversation, but
vulnerability and transparency create trust. 

Communication is the key to creating healthy connections. Without it, we are left in a
jaded bubble of misinterpretation that is void of empathy and meaning.

Healthy Expectations vs Unhealthy Expectations

I think it’s clear that you can’t avoid expectations, and they do indeed have a rightful place
in our lives. As long as you keep them realistic by infusing them with perspective, appreciation, and clarity.

We can test this theory out by looking at the other example we gave. The woman who found
out her colleague hadn’t done the work she’d expected them to do for her, felt let down. But
let’s say that she took the time to create clarity by sharing her expectations. Her colleague
then explains that when he first volunteered to do her the favor, there was no clarity that it
was expected to be on an ongoing basis. This has given her perspective and allows her to feel
appreciation for the efforts her colleague has made to do her these favours. She now realizes
that this isn’t to be taken for granted and that she played a role in her expectations not being

The Real Reason It's Important To Manage Expectations In Life And At Work

Let’s return to my first story, where my sister and I were late for our show. I needed to
accept that our experience wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. And once I did, it brought
with it a story that we laugh about and share, with many lessons along the way.

I love what Yuval Noah Harari says:
Happiness = reality – expectations.

A lot of unhappiness is a result of unclear, un-communicated expectations, or over expectation. People hide in vagueness. When expectations are not clear, it becomes very difficult to hold people accountable. The best way to predict success is to be clear on what success looks like. And every experience we have, whether it is what we’d hoped for or not, brings unique opportunities to embrace and learn.

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