Expectations (and How to Violate Them)

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few months about expectations. One of the definitions of expectations on dictionary.com is “the degree of probability that something will occur.” In particular, I’ve been comparatively examining three different variations on the concept of expectations:

  • Consciously setting expectations
  • Consciously deciding on a state of no expectations
  • Developing shared expectations (a process)

You can set expectations with yourself, or with another person (or another group of people). Setting expectations is the equivalent of saying “here’s the way I want it to be” or “here’s the way it’s GOING to be.” Managers often aim to set expectations with their employees regarding concepts of acceptable (and excellent) performance. Developing shared expectations, however, is a process that must be done collaboratively. It is best accomplished when you enter into the process with no expectations or a knowledge that your expectations can (and SHOULD) change in response to your interactions with the people you’ll share those expectations.

Sometimes, expectations are implicit or assumed, and this is where you can get into a lot of trouble! Miscommunications and bad feelings can abound when expectations are violated. I’d like to give an example where I unknowingly violated someone’s expectations, and probably left him with tons of bad feelings. I didn’t mean to, but I think his expectations were unreasonable, and apparently he doesn’t. This gap in expectations indicates that we don’t share a core value or two, and subsequently suggests that we might even have difficulty sustaining even the most casual of relationships. I don’t feel bad about the interchange; it just says to me “this is a person you’re just not going to be able to relate to.”

The context: this person is an old Facebook friend of mine. I’ve known him for almost 15 years, but haven’t seen him in almost 10 – although I have talked to him on the phone a few times in the meantime. I thought we were relatively good and comfortable friends, but he de-friended me about a year ago. I didn’t think anything of it; some people choose to have only a small circle of Facebook friends or family, and I wouldn’t be in the small circle. When I called him on his birthday and he didn’t answer, I also didn’t think anything of it. But then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to re-friend him! Asked how he was doing, let him know I had called on his birthday… asked what was up. He sent me a short direct message that I didn’t have the time to properly respond to, so I was waiting for a time I could write a longer message.

About 5 days later I get this direct message:

I do not see the point of being on Facebook with you. When you first requested being a FB friend about a year or so ago, I readily honored the request, but then noticed that you responded to only one of my many messages to you. So I bailed out. What was the point, I asked myself.

Now you have initiated another friend request, I agreed, but then we are back to your not responding to my messages, whereas you are in dialog with others.

So, I am bailing out again.

“One of his many messages to me,” by the way, was maybe 2 or 3 public posts. His expectations, I guess, were that I would respond to each and every post to my wall, or follow-up to comments, or direct message. I don’t respond to all wall posts or comments. I do respond to all direct messages, but sometimes it takes me a while (up to a couple months, in the worst cases). I immediately recognized that this was an EXPECTATION GAP problem, and felt the bad energy and bad feelings, and realized that I didn’t want or need this discordant energy in my life. I decided to cut the ties as follows:

Wow, I didn’t know there was a protocol to follow! Since I’m certainly not going to be able to live up to such expectations, I honor your de-friending, and wish you the best from here on out.


It only took about 15 minutes to get a response (and yes, this is ALL it said… pretty terse, huh):

Expecting someone to respond to a sent message is hardly an unreasonable expectation. That is a protocol that is ages old.

Clearly, the issue is that he had some timeline on his expectations, e.g. if you don’t respond to someone’s post or message in a day or two, you are not responding at all. Second, by stating “that is a protocol that is ages old” it communicates to me that HE feels everyone on earth shares this expectation and always has. Not true; that is not my expectation, and I know of many people who feel the same way as I do. For example, I have another VERY good Facebook friend who I only talk to every 6 months or a year. A couple months ago, we arranged for me to come visit him in December, but I didn’t get back to him until just last week. Turns out his plans have changed, and we’ll have to reschedule our meetup. Did I have a problem with this? Not at all – we’ll be flexible. Did he have a problem with my slow response? Not at all – we’re good friends, and that’s the bottom line. No friendship lost, no feelings hurt – we are on the same page and probably always will be.

And it’s all thanks to having a shared, flexible expectation on how and when we communicate. Regarding the FB-defriender? Glad to not have you in my life anymore – what an energy drain you could have become. (But I really did mean it when I wished him the best.)

Shared expectations = good friendships, good relationships, good business interactions. Get there expeditiously, and everyone will be happier sooner.

One comment

  • Wow, your friend, or shall I say ex friend has a very definite view of things, it’s kind of unnerving. I’m on FB but I rarely use it anymore, in fact I think it’s been months since I’ve opened it.

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