Many problems can be avoided or resolved easier if you are good at managing people’s expectations. We may want many things in work and life, but because we know that we can’t get them all, we are sensitive about things that we expect to get. That’s our compromise, so to speak. I may give up X, but I better get Y. If you know how to lower or raise people’s expectations, you have an influence over their levels of happiness, satisfaction, appreciation. I don’t suggest that you manipulate people by setting their expectations low on purpose. I believe in honesty and respect when dealing with people. After all, trust is essential in serving professions, such as law, but it is also fragile. On the other hand, you should not promise what you can’t deliver. But you already know that. Let’s look at a few scenarios when managing expectations can save you a lot of trouble.
You get an assignment from a partner. You think you understand what the partner wants even though you are a bit fuzzy on a few points. You think you will figure it out once you research the question more. You don’t want to ask for clarifications now because you don’t want to look incompetent. “What if I am supposed to know that?” your inner critic says in a reproaching kind of voice. You go ahead and do your research. One hundred billable hours later, as you are talking to the partner again, you are told that you answered a wrong question.
The lesson from Scenario 1 is that in order to manage expectations, you need to know what they are. To be clear about your task or the process to be followed to solve the problem, ask questions and repeat the essence of what you heard in your own words to make sure you understood correctly. Fire the inner critic.
You get an assignment from your boss. The task is clear. As you go about your business, a few complications arise. You think you can handle them on your own. You don’t want to bother the boss with minor details. The inner critic says, “The boss will never give me any serious work if I can’t handle this.” Before you know it, two hundred billable hours later, the complications snowball into a major disaster.
The lesson from Scenario 2 is that you must keep the channels of communication open. Good bosses know how to stay on top of things without being a micromanager. But if it’s not your boss, the burden is on you to make a call when something needs to be brought to her attention. What you want to do is to have a plan ready how you would handle the situation. That way, you are not complaining about a problem, you are offering a solution. And fire the inner critic.
You get an assignment with a deadline. You need to coordinate with John Doe, who has an important role in the project. No problem. You think you will be ready in time with your part and so will John Doe. Unfortunately, John Doe has a family emergency. You think you can still finish on time when John Doe shows up in the office on Monday, so you don’t let anybody know that the deadline may be compromised and you don’t reschedule any meetings. “They will kill the messenger,” admonishes the inner critic. John Doe is not in the office on Monday.
The lesson from Scenario 3 is that sometimes you have to deliver the bad news. Nobody likes to miss a deadline, especially an important one. But things happen, and if you keep communicating with your team and your clients, you may be able to renegotiate the deadline, which is better than missing it. So, fire the inner critic.
Do you have your own scenario?