The bumpiest road is paved with unmet expectations.

Better interactions start with understanding expectations.

Expectations, we all have them. They guide our emotions, actions, and reactions. They are in place before we know they exist and influence our next set of expectations without any awareness or overt action. They also derail relationships, erode trust, and break down collaboration faster than anything else we bring to an interaction. Why?

Expectations are uniquely ours. They start with us — our experiences, training, biases, cultural influences, as well as interpretations of current environmental conditions. And they enter each interaction ahead of us — before we enter a room, start a meeting, pick up the phone, stream online content, and so on. Why is this important? More specifically, why is this important now?

Because like it or not, we are all carrying our unique expectations into new and different environments (work from home, new work hours, job stress from COVID-19, etc.) Yesterday things were “normal.” Some traffic on the commute, a trendy lunch at the office cafeteria, and dropping the kids off at their various extracurriculars. Today is different. Now, we’re at home…all the time. Sharing an “office” with pets, children, and spouses is just the beginning. We’re also navigating large scale video meetings on painfully slow wifi and clunking our way through the “best” tools for remote collaboration while worrying about where we’re going to buy toilette paper. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t end there. At the same time, we try to find ways of maintaining our sanity, understanding the implications of frightening statistics, connecting with friends, and, most importantly, caring for family and ourselves in the best way possible. All of that comes with a set of expectations. Expectations that not everyone is aware of and that are ever-present in this new world, like it or not.

Taking a quick look at “expectations,” a quick checklist approach may help. Ask yourself these questions:


1. Do my expectations of myself match the expectations I have for others?


  1. Have I set my expectations clearly and identified as much from others?
  2. Do they align with, support, and complement the priorities and goals we share?


  1. Are we all: playing by the same rules, using the same tools, equally adept at navigating the landscape?
  2. Are we listening?
  3. Are we expecting others to meet us where we are? Or, are we focused on meeting them where they are?

Feel a bit vague? These examples may help.

Managing Meetings

It may feel very different waiting on camera staring at a blank screen while people mosey into a meeting than it did to be in an office/conference room as people filter in. Have we reset/set expectations around meeting “etiquette,” use of cameras, arrival time, agendas, and priorities/goals for each interaction?


When is chat the right vehicle vs. email vs. phone calls vs. video conference vs. anything else we might dream up? What is the “right” expected response time, are the “old” ways of working still the right ones, and do we still have the tools to support them?

Seeing Opportunity

How do we know when someone needs help? When they ask or when they fail? Or do we have to reach out more often, more compassionately, and inquire? And, how do we do that when a few weeks ago we could tell by seeing their body language, their desk, their in-person demeanor?

Giving Help

How do we give help? A few weeks ago, we could deliver support in several ways — in-person being the one likely to have been used most often. Now, what are the best channels?

Sharing Information

How do we share information? Do we use “reply all” as often or more often? Do my friends and colleagues need more information or less information? How do I know?

While the list can carry on with many other situations that are colored and influenced by unique sets of expectations, it is essential to remember the following: Every gap created by unmet expectations can grow to a point beyond “redemption” — creating rifts and trust problems within the community or team. New tribal norms may now include seeing spouses, children, and pets come in and out of business meetings — violating any expectation one may have of “focused and private” conditions for those “normal” interactions to occur. It is a great time to reset, restate, and revisit our collective expectations so we can match them to the game at hand, empower each other (and ourselves) to meet the current challenges. We are stronger together when we communicate, starting with our expectations.

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Your Growth Partner
April 26, 2024