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What did you expect?

Expectations are everywhere. A company can make a big profit but if it does not meet the expectations of the stock market, the share price will still fall. Or a person can do a fantastic job but if it does not match the expectations, it will not be seen as a good job.

But we do not only have expectations on results, we also have expectations on ourselves, our peers, how we behave and what we do in our roles. My first job as a team leader taught me a hard lesson about misaligned expectations. I had an idea of what a good team leader was and the team had another. It did not take too long before we had to talk about these things and it would have been more pleasant if it would have been done early on. But it taught me the importance of expectations.

Misaligned expectations lead to frustration

If you do not manage yours and others expectations, people will start to be frustrated. It can be a frustration that things does not happen (or at least not the right things are happening) or that the result are not what you expected.

Frustration lead to distrust

If the situation is not dealt with, the frustration will eventually become distrust. You stop believing that the other person is able to do a good job. You avoid to delegate work to this person or you will double check everything so that it is done right. But it can also mean that the working environment gets ugly if people can not trust each other. Gossip and bad-mouthing flourish in low trust environments.


The first step in solving the issue of misaligned expectations is to think through what assumptions you are making. Once you have done this you can start evaluating if you are having reasonable expectations. If you are making incorrect assumptions, you might also have unrealistic expectations that is not possible to live up to. You shall also try to see it from their side. Think of what the other party might assume and expect from you.

The solution

There is no other antidote to the frustration and the distrust that is caused by misaligned expectations than to communicate. You have to start the conversation and listen to each other. Let them know what assumptions you are making and what your expectations are. You might want write down what you conclude so that you have something to agree on. But having expectations written down can also be a good way to communicate to the wider community.

If you are a manager, you do not only manage people, you also manage expectations. You need to manage the expectations of behaviour as well as results. But you also have to manage the expectations that your employees might have on you and on each other.

What other effects can misaligned expectation have on an organisation? How are you working with expectations in your role? Leave a comment.