5 Tips for Managing Expectations


Everyone has what they think is the key, or “magic,” to success. Hard work, experience, honesty, location, timing, connections, and such.  And these are indeed very important, critical and key ingredients.

However, I submit that all of these can still fail or cause you to struggle unnecessarily unless you master this “magic ingredient” of the consistently successful:  EXPECTATIONS.

Disappointment comes from a failure to meet expectations, real or not. The project or deal may be a great success in your eyes and yet others may be disappointed. This disappointment may surface from your clients, your vendors, your staff, your boss or you.

Likewise, meeting and exceeding expectations creates raving fans! These people will send customers or offer jobs to you even without you asking. But to meet and exceed expectations usually means managing these and doing so early and often.

For instance, I think we’ve all heard these comments:

“I didn’t think it would cost that much!”

(Why did they think this? Were they not told, they didn’t listen, the deal changed without notification, they don’t know the market, they ignored the price list, they are just haggling, or they just didn’t understand?)

“I thought this house would be in better condition!”

(Why did they think this? Was there a bad description, bad photos, preconceived notions, or just overly hopeful thinking?)

“I thought you were going to handle this!”

(Was there a simple misunderstanding, a failure to communicate, or is this just a bully?)

“Don’t you know my time is valuable?”

(Maybe it is but if it is really valuable, it can be billed! If someone will not pay for it, maybe it is not so valuable. What does each party expect?)

After each of these types of comments, how did at least one party in the process look?  Probably not very good.

With that in mind, here are 5 TIPS for Managing Expectations:

1. Explain the situation, product, service, and/or time-line early, clearly and often. Expectations are created early, so create the right ones and then remembers to reinforce as you go.

2. Talk clearly about money, price, fees, rates, commissions and financing. Money topics are often avoided and postponed. That delay allows false expectations (and then disappointment) to develop and gain strength.

3. Ask questions to see that the other party listened and UNDERSTOOD. Some people will say they understand when they didn’t. They may do this because they are afraid of how they will appear. Or perhaps they are just not paying attention to something important. Help them out without being a know-it-all.

4. Listen actively for false expectations and professionally explain more realistic expectations ASAP. Listen, consider, review, think and respond. Don’t wait for reality to beat you to the punch, else you’ll look unprepared.

5. Be aware and address your own expectations.  Don’t assume… know the outcome expected by everyone, including yourself.  Make sure they match.

If you are ever greatly disappointed, it is likely you “expected” an outcome that may or may not have been guaranteed. It is okay to be hopeful and even disappointed, just in appropriate, practical, balanced moderation.

Naturally, there are so many other ways to approach this topic and more tips for setting and managing expectations. Taking proactive steps, whatever they may be, reduces the risk of others seeing your work or results as failure when it may really be a success by the goals and standards set in the beginning.

Be measured by the real project, effort and outcome, not an exaggerated idea someone else created with imagination and lack of understanding! You can have a role in this if you are not reactive but, instead, are proactive.

Establish and manage expectations with clear communication and you’ll see happier relationships, projects and deals!


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.