In my second year as an entrepreneur, I learned a lot about how to manage expectations with others and especially managing my own expectations of myself.
Managing expectation is a never ending exercise in clearly articulating our needs, wants, and hopes. It requires activating all three elements of practicing curiosity: self- awareness, relationship building, and communication.
Here’s what I learned to help me navigate the dynamics of managing expectations that I’ve applied to both my personal and professional life.
- Don’t expect people to change, yet believe them if they do change
Changing behavior is difficult for those who want to change, and impossible for those who don’t want to change. I’ve learned not to expect people to change. At the same time, people can change and I have to let go of grudges and old expectations to believe that they have changed. This has been especially true in my personal life. I’ve seen my mom change after my dad passed, in positive ways I didn’t expect. Just as I want others to see that I am capable of change, I have to be willing to believe others can change too, even if I shouldn’t expect it.
- Explicitly describe what people can expect from me
I have to constantly remind myself that people can’t read my mind and I have to be more explicit. In regards to their own expectations, some people think in terms of what they will gain and benefit. For my clients, I describe what they will get with specific examples. For my team, I try to anticipate their questions and concerns. This is especially important now as people worry about layoffs. For my friends, I let them know what kind of support I can provide.
- Explicitly describe what people shouldn’t expect from me
Other people think in terms of what they might lose or won’t get, so I also list what I won’t be doing and what they will not get, so that I can manage their expectations. For example, I often tell people my 7 Forms of Respect framework will NOT teach them how to be respectful, that it’s not like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For my team, I’ve made it clear that until we become consistently profitable, I can’t increase hours or provide more benefits. For my friends, I let them know when I can’t provide support in the ways they asked of me.
- Accept that people will have expectations of me I can’t fulfill
It’s natural for people to make assumptions about me that lead to certain expectations. I have found that people often think because I’m a woman of color in leadership development, my work will focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) when it doesn’t. I don’t get upset by this expectation; I just explain that I’m not a DEI expert.
- Name incorrect expectations
Painful learning experiences made me learn how to name incorrect expectations before I reset their expectations. For example, I now sometimes start workshops with, “You may think this is racial justice training and it’s not. This is what we’ll be doing instead and why.”
- Ask people to manage my expectations by managing theirs
In being clear that expenses outpaced revenue this past year, I tell my team that I understand they have to consider their individual financial needs because I don’t know when I can provide higher salaries. I just ask them to keep me updated if they do search for work elsewhere. When a team member left for a great career opportunity, I was not surprised. My expectations were managed.
- Differentiate between expectations and hope
Entrepreneurship requires optimism. I was wildly overly optimistic in my revenue projections coming into my second year. I realized expectations should be based on my previous experiences to believe what is realistic and possible, not from strangers’ success stories I read on the Internet!
- Don’t compare myself to others in creating expectations for myself
This is a hard one to admit that I do. I constantly have to remind myself not to compare. I have
close friends who are also authors of wildly successful books. As a self-published author without a long track record of prestigious publications or public speaking, I can’t apply the same expectations for success to myself. If I only look at those who I think have more, I will always feel I don’t have enough. So, I can’t compare.
- Continue to do things I love even if they don’t meet my expectations
There are so many things I love doing, such as writing essays like this, that don’t meet my expectations of desired outcomes. I often remind myself that I don’t write because I expect a lot of views; I write to have an impact, even if that impact is limited to a few readers. Think about what things you love to do and that you would do no matter what, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. This lesson is also connected to the one on differentiating between expectations and hope (see lesson #7).
- Lower my expectations to “good enough” so I can experiment faster
I sometimes slip into perfectionist standards. This past year, I pushed myself to create content with less and sometimes no outside editing before I post. I’ve been surprised by how my raw content can resonate with people, like my 2021 reflections on managing my energy instead of my time or my Instagram reel that went viral when I made fun of myself. This lesson is one I will lean into even more in 2023.
I’ve learned to accept that managing expectations is an iterative process in which I have to be asking questions and listening carefully to both others and to myself.
Listen to this essay on Substack.
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