“Disappointment, discouragement, and despair are nothing
but the bitter fruit of an unfulfilled expectation allowed to live beyond its time.”
– Guy Finley, American self-help writer, philosopher, and spiritual teacher
“Hey, Paul,” our genial server exclaimed. “I haven’t seen you in ages!”
Paul shifted uncomfortably in his chair. I had joined friends, Paul, and Brenda, for lunch at a local mall. Paul had suggested we eat in the food court, but Brenda and I wanted a place where we could sit down and relax. When I suggested the mall’s all-day-breakfast restaurant, Paul re-sisted, offering a few excuses that sounded suspicious. After some arm-twisting, Paul relented and we walked inside.
“Paul used to come here two or three times a week,” the server continued. “Always ordered the same thing: bacon and eggs over easy with brown toast, hash browns, and coffee.”
Both Brenda and I looked at Paul who huffed a couple times and cleared his throat.
“I moved to a different part of the city,” he said. “Wasn’t convenient anymore.”
The server smiled and nodded, took our orders and then disappeared into the back.
“When did you move?” asked Brenda. “You’ve lived in that same apartment for years.”
Under his breath, Paul explained that he had been a regular customer but over time, the staff had started taking him for granted. He didn’t get the same level of service or interaction he had initially. Sometimes his coffee cup wasn’t refilled and occasionally, the staff would seat him in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen where it was cramped and noisy.
“Maybe they were just busy,” I offered, “and they figured you wouldn’t mind.”
“That’s no excuse,” he snapped, “I was entitled to something a whole lot better!”
Paul did raise an interesting point: repeat customers deserve acknowledgment. Customers have the ability to construct or destruct a business. Even today, word of mouth remains our most powerful form of advertising. I’ve seen businesses take regular customers for granted and then wonder why they eventually departed for greener (more appreciative) pastures.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul’s sense of entitlement was justified – if his expectation was realistic. Obviously, Paul had an expectation as to how he, a regular customer, should be treated. Perhaps the restaurant staff also had an expectation of him. Maybe they thought Paul, being a regular customer, would be more patient and accommodating (especially when the res-taurant was busy) and therefore require less attention. Both expectations went unfulfilled.
We’ve all felt frustration caused by unfulfilled expectations. We’ve all experienced not living up to someone else’s expectation and we’ve all had people in our lives who failed to live up to ours. In relationships – both personal and business – frustration often arises from what I call unavowed expectations: essentially, expectations that have never been openly expressed, dis-cussed or clarified. Neither Paul nor the servers expressed their expectations of each other. Perhaps if Paul had said, “You know, you guys are taking me for granted,” he would have gotten a more desirable response. If nothing else, he would have come away with some clarity.
The truth is, unless we clarify our expectations, we’ll never know if they are realistic, attain-able or desirable. In my experience, the more confident and empowered we feel, the more will-ing we become to step up and ask those tough questions that demand clarity. Asking takes courage. Stepping up requires stepping through barriers of fear and resistance. The better your self-esteem, the more courageous you’ll feel and the more willing you’ll be to face your fears.
Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change your Life and the transformational belief assessment process called The Work, believes disappointment and frus-tration are usually the result of stories we create and then believe to be true, and not the ac-tions of others. These stories usually begin with phrases such as “You should,” “You shouldn’t,” “I need,” “I want,” “You always,” “I can’t be happy until,” or “I will be happy when.” Our stories delude us into believing that what we’re thinking and expecting is obvious to everyone.
Think about the last time you were disappointed or irritated by a co-worker, friend or part-ner who failed to deliver the “goods” in a way you expected or required. Did you express your expectations in clear and certain terms and did you receive confirmation that the message was received and understood? People aren’t mind readers, although our actions suggest we believe otherwise. If you’re in the habit of creating unavowed expectations, you’re probably in the habit of making false assumptions about why others respond to you the way they do.
Though you may not want admit it and might not even realize it consciously, you may prefer ambiguity, and for no other reason than the belief that a lack of clarity allows you to assume a lack of responsibility. Think about it. If you stay vague, you cannot be pinned down or held ac-countable and thus avoid a painful confrontation that may result from an open airing of views.
Clarifying expectations is an ongoing process. Expectations need to be addressed and read-dressed on an ongoing basis to ensure clarity and avoid hurt feelings, anger or frustration. It’s important to get clear about what you want, need or expect instead of keeping it a secret.
“I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations,” wrote German born psy-chiatrist and psychotherapist, Fritz Perls. “Nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.”
The meal was good – for an all-day-breakfast restaurant – and when our server returned, he told us that Paul’s meal was on the house. A token of appreciation for a long-time customer. Paul’s face turned red. Brenda giggled. I thanked the server and Paul left a sizable tip.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors