Expectation and disappointment are often two sides of the same coin but the experience between expectations in our businesses as opposed to our personal lives can be very different indeed.


In business, we actively invite positive expectations from our clients and customers as a crucial part of our marketing strategy. Of course this ramps up our responsibility to ‘deliver’ but at the same time increases our appeal to new and existing business. The main motivation driving the expectation is a successful and satisfying business experience. Trust and belief will also be important elements, especially in longer standing business relationships, but these expectations follow a very different dynamic to that in our personal lives: here, with colleagues, friends and family the emphases of expectations can take on completely different dimensions.

In our private lives, we can often impose our expectations uninvited. This can make both us and the other person hostages to disappointment and can be inherently risky:

We invest our high hopes and trust in an individual or a group.
We transfer to them the responsibility of being custodian of those hopes. Once hope, trust and, sometimes, even love are put into the same mix we can understand just how potent this cocktail can be. Once bestowed we have absolutely no control over what the other person is going to do with it.
So exposed, we often deny the other person the right to fail which, of course, is unrealistic given the element of humanity.
With this potentially potent and unstable formula in place, if people fail to live up to our expectations, the effects on us can be dramatic - far more than if we are disappointed in business. Like anything else we perch high on a pedestal, if they ‘fail us’ there is only one direction they can go.


There is, however, another dimension to personal expectations. The American engineer Charles Kettering wrote “High achievement takes place in the framework of high expectation” which, if true, would indicate that it’s not all bad news. Living up to the expectations of others can make us feel good about ourselves and can spur us on to tapping into potential we did not realise we possessed.

It is here that we can follow the example we set in our businesses as how to best manage expectations. Good businesses do it successfully all the time – in fact, they thrive on it. Good communication lies at the heart of successful management and this could not be more essential than in managing expectations:

1. If we are proactive in communicating both good and bad news, this will alleviate any confusion over expectations which are notoriously subjective.
2. Being aware of and observing our expectations can better help us to manage our reaction in the event they are not met. Let us try to be selective and ensure our expectations are in proportion.
3. Realistic expectations mean achievability – but deciding what is achievable requires a detached objectivity: a challenge in itself.
4. Expectations are subjective and given that none of us are mind readers the more we know about what the other party has on their mind the better.
5. Both parties need to be clear on what is reasonable to expect, what is manageable. Being direct and transparent is as every bit as important at home as it is at work.
6. Establish a mutual respect necessary to ensure openness. Being a "yes man or woman" will never add to the clarity of any situation.
7. Active listening is one of the most misunderstood and least used tools in managing expectations and yet it is one of the most effective tools we possess.
8. Dialogue must be regular – it’s better to speak up early on if we feel we have a problem with our expectations rather than delay and have to deal with a full blown crisis.

We all understand the human emotional dimension of not having our expectations met or of failing to meet those of others. These experiences are, at best, uncomfortable. But we can overcome the challenge by a regular flow of information, in both directions, to ensure that we give ourselves the very best chance of keeping ourselves, and those around us, off the pedestal.

Alan Keyse

Author's Bio: 

I am a Personal Development and Life Coach based in Hertfordshire and working throughout London and the Home Counties. Through my coaching I focus on the prize: being happier and more confident; a career change; stress management; a habit broken; a healthier lifestyle; greater clarity and focus; personal development - whatever you want your goal to be.

After three decades as a sales executive for Italian corporations, my approach to life and business coaching is very much a results driven process. I guide my clients to set achievable but challenging goals which become realized through positive planning and relentless forward momentum.