“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.”
― Bill Watterson
One of the greatest frustrations that managers bring to coaching conversations is that of staff or colleagues not meeting their expectations. And these frustrations often result in simmering resentment, deteriorating relationships and increasing disappointment at further unmet expectations. What’s a perfectionist to do!
Faced with the complaint that “So, do I have to lower my standards because of other people” the answer is both you do and you don’t. And there are some questions to consider which are helpful in making that distinction.
Are my expectations realistic? As Dr Travis Bradbury notes in this article very often smart people set the bar too high, and when people take too long or don’t get things quite right, they assume it’s due to a lack of effort. So they push even harder and miss the opportunity to help others achieve the goals they’re so anxious for them to reach. Sometimes lowering your expectations is necessary to allow for growth and development.
Are they really necessary? What would happen if the work was done slower, less accurately or just in a way they might be different to your preferred way. If your expectation is really just a preference you might find there is very little negative impact organisationally from lowering those expectations.
However sometimes expectations are realistic, with a standard that needs to be met, and lowering them would not be acceptable.
In that case are those expectations explicit? Do staff and colleagues know what is expected of them or are you assuming that they “should” just know. Often the gap between what managers expect and what staff think is much greater than managers realise. Some organisational issues to check include
- Are processes and standards clearly explained and well documented
- Are people held accountable to those processes and standards
- Are there consequences for not meeting legitimate expectations
- Are you clear and consistent in your expectations
- Are you hiring the right people with the right skills
A gap in any of the above often leads to frustration which is then ineffectively directed at the individual rather than addressing the systemic causes. It would be interesting to hear how others have dealt with these frustrations.