Have you ever done something, only to find out after the fact others expected you to do something else?
I was leading a group in a church I worked in, and a team member came at the end of their stint to say their good-byes. In the course of what was an otherwise pleasant conversation, this person added, “I do have to tell you this was not what I had expected, Brian…” and went on to tell me how I had disappointed them by not doing some things they thought I would do. (I am being purposely vague to respect this person and the situation.) I was caught off guard at the time, and mumbled a half-apology. I then began to defend myself by saying they never told me what they expected, so I was never aware of those desires. While I did attempt to follow up at a later date and make sure we parted on good terms, I was never comfortable with how this was handled.
How might we handle it when we learn we are not meeting unspoken expectations?
As I said, I was caught off guard by this comment, but in hindsight I now realize I need to be prepared to hear those comments. As a leader and one working with or for other people, this is bound to happen, so best to at least have some preparation. Yes, I’m saying we should expect others to not always tell us what they expect! I may not have any control over their expectations, either voiced or private, but I can control myself and my response.
What would I do now? First, I would thank the person for sharing their expectations, albeit after the fact. I do believe it is good to know this information, as it may serve to explain other situations I am involved in. Second, I would affirm them for sharing, and ask if there is anything else I ought to know. I now realize I had not held an exit interview with this person, but in the absence of a formal one, there is no time like the present to hear any information relevant to one’s work. Thirdly, I would encourage this person, as graciously as possible, to share their expectations with those they work with as soon as they realize what they are. While I would not be the beneficiary of this advice, I hope I’m helping others in the future.
The truth is, we all have unspoken expectations of others. I know I have my share. I am learning to be careful of expressing them after the fact, as it often creates unwanted tension as there is no way to meet those expectations now. If I do express those expectations, I make sure I acknowledge my failure to share them on the front-end.
Are you finding yourself in situations where you have to decide whether to share your expectations of another after they have done what you did not want? There is no hard and fast rule here. It is usually a situation to address based on factors like our relationship and common sense. Nevertheless, the one rule we can all take away from this to help in being clear on what we expect is this:
If you expect something, please let us (or me) know.
© Brian F. Reynolds BFRspace 2014
“What do you expect? The question you need to ask!” is now available in paperback for $20 (Can) from Scarlet Cord Press (.).