Fundamental #11 – Set and Ask for Expectations


Set and ask for expectations. We judge situations not by what happens, but by how they compare to what we expected to happen. In fact, nearly every misunderstanding can be traced to a difference in expectations. Avoid these misunderstandings by creating mutually understood expectations in every situation.

Setting clear expectations is a shared responsibility. Whether you are setting the expectation or being asked to perform to someone else’s expectation, we all have the responsibility to make sure that we leave that meeting or conversation on the same page. Expectations that are not in balance between both parties can lead to wasted time and effort by everyone. It can also lead to misunderstandings that affect trust in our relationships. While this seems like and easy fundamental, and it is if we all work at it, the potential impact on our business and relationships is huge . . . both positive and negative.

If you are the one setting the expectation or asking for someone to perform a task or project, then you have the responsibility to set clear outcomes. This includes what outputs you expect and what timeline you expect . . . remember, ASAP cannot be found anywhere on a calendar or a clock. When setting an expectation, you must also be prepared to answer questions or clarify if the person receiving the instruction is unclear. Sometimes we’re not necessarily clear about the desired outcomes ourselves, so setting clear expectations has the added benefit of helping us to focus on desired outcomes.

If you are the one receiving the request to perform to expectation, then you have the responsibility to receive the information and fully understand what is being asked of you. If you are unclear about what has been asked of you, then you need to ask appropriate questions or you can even ask for examples of what a positive outcome would be. If you foresee issues with performing to expectation whether it be due to timeline or resources, then this is the time to raise your hand. If you don’t have the skills to perform to expectation, then now is the time to request the appropriate direction or training . . . don’t be shy, the person setting the expectation may not be aware of your training or skills.

How often do we leave meetings with our own individual notes and personally interpreted expectations? You can create a simple yet powerful tool called a Who What When form. This tool is useful to keep on hand at any meeting. Have one person in charge of filling out with tasks during your meeting. There are 3 simple columns: Who (responsible person), What (task to be performed), When (due date). Review at the end of the meeting so that everyone has the same understanding of expectations coming out of the meeting.

– Matthew Whalen