Managing Expectations Through Good Communication

by | March 10, 2015

One of the most powerful skills that you can possess is the ability to manage expectations. It’s a beautifully simple concept that can have a dramatic impact on both your personal and professional relationships.

If you think back on some of the times where you felt most frustrated, wronged, and/or cheated, there’s a good chance that the situation could have gone very differently if your expectations had been managed appropriately.

For example, have you ever been upset to discover that a product or service is going to cost more than what you had been quoted? Or, have you been frustrated that you’re having to wait all day for a plumber who had told you he’d be there at 9am? If you had just known upfront what the true cost was going to be or what time the plumber was going to arrive, your frustration would have been minimized if not eliminated altogether.

This is in fact a concept that many people leverage on a daily basis, especially if they are in the business of providing superior customer service. Theme park employees, for example, will tell you that the wait times for rides are consistently an overestimation of the actual wait time. They would rather guests be pleasantly surprised when their wait time is shorter than the sign had indicated instead of them being frustrated that they had to wait longer than expected.

Fortunately, this powerful skill is something that you can leverage in your own life, whether it be your personal or professional life. Primarily through good and upfront communication, you will be able to build better and stronger relationships by learning how to establish and maintain realistic expectations.

Don’t Be Afraid To Over-Communicate

There are countless examples of how you create expectations every day: if you’re consistently late, people will begin to expect it; if you deliver bad food to a customer, they will think your restaurant isn’t worth patronizing since they will expect all of your food to be bad; if you don’t respond to feedback, they will assume you don’t care and will expect nothing to improve. It’d be impossible to plan for all of the times when you can dramatically impact a situation’s outcome by properly managing expectations. Instead, it is important to realize that almost everything you do or say creates a certain expectation and to use that knowledge to your advantage.

The easiest way to use this knowledge to your advantage is to consistently communicate with people. Rather than serve sub-par food to a customer and hope that they don’t notice, acknowledge that the guest’s meal does not seem up to your establishment’s standards and offer to have it replaced. If you receive customer feedback but don’t have an immediate solution, let your customer know that and why, making sure to explain how you plan on changing that. Even if what you have to say isn’t exactly what the other party wants to hear, there’s a good chance it’s better than the explanation they will create in their head in the absence of communication.

Be Honest And Transparent

Too often a person’s first impulse is to withhold information that they feel could cause conflict or disappointment. The problem with this approach is that the other people involved are still eventually going to have to deal with the potentially upsetting information that was originally withheld, but now they have to deal with it without being prepared and/or understanding the background information that would have made the situation more forgivable.

From your standpoint, promising someone something that you most likely will not be able to deliver on may seem like a good idea because it puts you in a good light, but it’s important to think about the consequences if you are unable to deliver on that promise. For example, lowballing a quote for a client may get them to sign on, but it is also likely to leave the client frustrated and upset in the end. And upset clients are liable to leave negative reviews, which will hurt your business for as long as that review is visible. Instead of losing one client now who simply can’t afford your prices, you may end up losing several clients because they’ve read that you are not upfront with your pricing and essentially not trustworthy.

Be Realistic

In establishing someone else’s expectations, it’s crucial that you first begin by being realistic about the situation. In a perfect world things may work exactly as they should but that often isn’t the case. For example, don’t tell your spouse that you will be home by 6pm if you know the meeting you are in at the end of the day almost always runs significantly late. Your spouse may not like that you’re going to be home at 8pm instead of 6pm, but if they know this is likely in advance, he or she can plan their evening accordingly rather than feeling resentful as they wait for you for two hours. In either case, your spouse is upset, but in the former they are upset because they want to spend more time with you and in the latter they are upset because you left them hanging – potentially with burnt or cold dinner to boot.