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Failed to meet an unspoken expectation

written by Allan on March 06, 2012

Relationships can be easily damaged by miscommunication. One type of miscommunication happens when one person’s expectations for another aren't clearly expressed, resulting in confusion, frustration and often hurt feeling.

This can happen at work, with your spouse, between you and your business partner and even between parents and their kids. We all have expectations for each other, but when someone falls short of those expectations (whether they were correctly expressed or not), you have the choice to respond in 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Suppress your disappointment. This will result in the other person never knowing that they didn’t deliver on, thus they will continue to fall short. Eventually you’ll boil over with disappointment, and the relationship will suffer.
  2. Be passive aggressive and hint around at what they did “wrong”. The only way this “works” is to eventually beat the other person into submission with your passive aggression. This usually isn’t the way to build a healthy long term relationship. (This is what I do to Steve.)
  3. Clearly express your expectations of them. Next time they can hopefully deliver what you expect. How you communicate your expectations can often be tricky, but this is the best option.

Inherently, humans want to make others happy. For the most part, how clearly you can communicate your expectations will reflect how well and how often others deliver on these expectations. If they fail to deliver even when your communication is great, keep trying. Some people just need time.

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Brennan Dunn
Brennan Dunn said on March 06, 2012

Setting expectations – ESPECIALLY with your clients – is everything. Especially if you’re like me and hate those “we need to talk” moments. They’re completely avoidable.

Beverly said on March 06, 2012

I think your right on. Too often when we are disappointed we don’t stop to reflect on our own communication and because we all tend to want instant gratification we’re unnecessarily impatient with others. Great post.

Eugen said on March 06, 2012

One point concerning the fact that we inherently want to make others happy.

I find this is what makes passive aggressiveness particularly dangerous. There’s a danger here of falling into a vicious circle that’s hard to escape afterwards. You’re “letting people down”, but it’s not really clear to you what you’re doing wrong, so you might start to promise more than you can deliver or stop saying no, even though your judgement tells you better.

This can only lead to more frustration down the road.
I think a good yardstick for a relationship’s health is how easy it is for you to say no.

Jay Owen
Jay Owen said on April 20, 2012

For me, setting expectations is often the most difficult thing to get right with new clients. It’s easy to not be 100% clear with everything and a client think they are getting something they are not. Creates a lot of frustration for everyone toward the end of the project.

Philip Zaengle
Philip Zaengle said on April 20, 2012

Great post.

Having expectations set out verbally durring a call or meeting is good… but people are forgetful. I including an overly detailed scope of work for all projects, and explaining to the client that if a feature is not part of the SOW it’s not within the current scope – this has saved me from those awkward conversations more than once.

About Allan
Allan loves his family more than breathing. He lives in Panama City, Florida & grew up washing cars at his family's car washes. Oh and Allan hasn't worn underwear since 2004.

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