What Kind of an Expectation Setter Are You?

Unless you set very clear expectations, almost every person will disappoint you with his or her unsatisfactory outcomes.


When you ask someone to complete a chore, task, or assignment, is the result that is produced ever disappointing? Most of us don’t have to think back but a week or two to have a few examples of getting something different than what was requested. And then we wonder why it keeps happening.


The Fast Red Car Experiment

Here’s effective exercise I use in my Leading Through People™ training workshops. I show the image below of a meeting and provide some details. “You’re in this meeting and the boss pulls out three company credit cards with a $400,000 credit limit and says, ‘Go get me a fast red car from dealer stock and be back here by 4:00 this afternoon with it. I want each of you to work independently – no discussion between yourselves – and I’ll judge who did the best job when I return,’ and exits the room. Given this, write down the make and model you return with.”



Almost invariably, when I go around the room and ask what make and model each person has written down, the answers are all different. When I ask why each person chose the specific vehicle he or she did, it was a car he or she wanted to have owned (or did own). In other words, each answer to fulfill the boss’s request was based on what was in the hearer’s mind. And each person believed he or she has fulfilled the request.

Turns out that what the boss really wanted was a gift for his son, who turns seven today. Ideally a replica of dad’s BMW two-seater convertible that he drives to work every day and his son likes to ride in. He figured that one of his three staffers would think the request through and come back with what he had in mind. But no one did.


A Guaranteed Experiment to Find Out Why

My fifth grade teacher taught me this experiment (thanks, Mrs. Hoy)! Whenever you are disappointed by an outcome, lift your arm and point to the person who delivered the disappointing result. Now carefully count your fingers and where they are pointing. What did you get? One finger pointing at someone else and three pointing back at you. Conclusion: the likely reason for failed expectations lies more with you than with anyone else.

Wait just a minute, you say. I knew exactly what I wanted and I clearly said what I wanted! So why was I disappointed and didn’t get what I wanted?


Instead, Set Expectations by Clearly Defining the Outcome

This approach will work whether you’re assigning a household chore to your ten-year-old or asking a team of people at work to tackle a project.

In order to get everyone on the same page and not assume that others can see what you have in mind, take these six steps:

1. Define what you want, both quantity and quality, in very specific terms. Both areas are key measurables. The more significant the project, the more you’ll need to define these two areas.

2. State when it is due. This can be a series of deliverables and dates, or a final deliverable for the completion of the assignment or project.

3. Identify the resources available to use (where and how to obtain them).

4. Provide insight as to WHY what you ask is important. How does the successful accomplishment affect others, the organization, customers, the family, the community, and so forth.

5. Define how and when progress toward the desired outcome will be measured. Set forth a meeting schedule and agenda to drive each meeting.

6. Ask each person to tell you, in his or her own words, exactly what he or she understands the assignment to be, what his or her plan is to accomplish the objective. This last step may be the most critical of all, since it will confirm just how well they understand what’s expected.

Each of the steps is important and allows the clear picture inside your head to be created inside the mind of others. The process is simple, and you may be tempted to skip a step or two in order to “save time.” Just remember the proverb, why is there never enough time to plan it thoroughly, but always enough time to do it over?


Bottom Line

Setting clear expectations is a fundamental communication skill that every person should endeavor to master. Most people want to please and achieve the outcomes you request. They just have to be clear and complete when setting expectations with others.

I help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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