Expectations can be unclear

“Life is largely a matter of expectation.”

“Life is largely a matter of expectation.”

— Horace, ancient Roman

lyric poet

“I see I’m going to have to train you.”

The young server stared at the man.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” he said.

“I’m going to have to train you,” he repeated, motioning to the plate of bacon and eggs that had just been placed before him.

When the server stood there looking perplexed, the man sighed and leaned back in his chair.

He wore a look of exasperation. The look of someone trying to explain what seems blatantly obvious to him and thus should be, he believes, obvious to another.

“The bacon, man, the bacon! There should be four strips.”

“Four strips?”

The server nervously scanned the menu for the item.

“It says here that the meal comes with two eggs, toast, hash browns and two strips of bacon.”

“Yes,” replied the man, now frustrated.

“But I’m a regular customer and I always get four strips.” He craned his neck to survey the restaurant. “Just ask one of the girls.”

Embarrassed and a little frightened, the young man nodded and scurried away.

From where I was sitting, I could see him talking to someone in the kitchen.

Many expectations we have of others are unclear or unspoken.

These expectations can come from our family values and traditions, past relationships, past experiences or the misguided notion that others should just “know” what it is that we expect.

We think of them as a natural and unspoken aspect of all our relationships.

In relationships, frustration often arises from what I term unavowed expectations: expectations that have been set forth yet never expressed or, if expressed, never affirmed.

Fear can prompt us to shirk the responsibility of clarifying expectations.

Too many of us believe that in order to feel happy or satisfied, we need the people in our lives to act a certain way and we become frustrated by their seeming unwillingness to comply.

Think about your relationships for a moment: the ones you have at work, the ones enjoyed with friends and, in particular, the relationship you share with your life partner.

Can you remember a time when you felt especially disappointed or irritated, when your partner failed to deliver in a manner you expected or required?

Was there clarity around the issue? That is, did you express in clear and certain terms your expectations and receive a confirmation of understanding in return?

It is hard to hold someone accountable to an unavowed expectation.

We’re not mind-readers, though our actions often suggest that we believe others to be. If you’re in the habit of creating unavowed expectations, then you’re probably in the habit of making false assumptions about why others respond to you in the manner they do.

Keep in mind, we all have certain traits. Whereas you may always be on time, your friend may always be late. I had a friend once who was always late.

Invariably, our visits or outings began with me being angry with him.

Finally, he asked me what my problem was and, when I told him, he was stunned by the admission.

He had no idea.

We all create expectations for ourselves and it’s a human trait to project those expectations onto others.

Self-awareness requires that we examine our expectations and find the courage to express them.

If you’re reluctant to express your expectations or feel a twinge of fear at the idea, there’s gold in doing some serious self-assessment.

When you clarify expectations, make certain other people comprehend what you’re asking. Ask them to listen while you explain the situation.

Encourage them to ask questions.

Have them repeat the expectations back to you to ensure clarity.

Encourage feedback and be willing to listen in return. Clarifying an expectation does not guarantee compliance but it’s certainly the best place to start.

In fact, you might find that when your unspoken expectations are given voice, they are in fact not entirely reasonable.

The frustration you feel may not be because people don’t understand your expectations, but because they are more than can reasonably be expected, and addressing them openly will give you a chance to clarify that with others.

Expectations left unchallenged can lead to a sense of entitlement, and once they become so entrenched, they become more difficult to alter.

It has always amazed me how a perk – such as the two extra strips of bacon — can easily become an expectation. Sometimes expectations are unreasonable while other times expectations are downright inappropriate and devolve into a misguided sense of entitlement.

I remember working for a company once where a perk was a free movie pass for two each week.

We lost the perk when one employee demanded he be allowed to bypass the long lineup for a much anticipated movie because he wasn’t paying for tickets. When asked why he wasn’t paying for tickets, he proudly stated that he worked for such-and-such company.

The next day, the theatre manager called the company and withdrew the perk.

“We tend to live up to our expectations,” wrote American motivational speaker and author, Earl Nightingale. I’m tempted to amend the quote to read, “We tend to expect others to live up to our expectations.”

Within a couple minutes of the confrontation in the restaurant, the server returned carrying a small plate with three sizzling strips of bacon. He set the plate before the man who reached out and slapped him on the arm.

“That’s got it,” he said. “Now I’ll expect five strips.” I looked down at the two strips of bacon on my plate and wondered if I should also claim to be a regular customer. I also wondered how the man would respond the next time he ordered and one of the “girls” failed to fulfil his five-strip expectation.

Murray M. Fuhrer – The Self-Esteem Guy


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