The Coach's Corner

Expectations and frustration

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #49

For years – expectations have ruled my life in one way or another.

Whether in education, marriage, raising kids, having a career, transitioning to another career, relationships – I have set high expectations for myself.

At the same time, the expectations I have of those in my space – partner, family, colleagues, leadership, work trajectory, relationships – have also been high. Except for one big difference, they didn’t ask for the expectations I placed on them.

Expectation is defined as:

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. It’s a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

In other words, when you have an expectation, you’re pretty sure it will happen. Except when it doesn’t, leading to anger and disappointment.

In a series of recent coaching sessions, a number of clients expressed frustration over the inability of ‘others’ to do what they’re supposed to do, thus hampering the final outcome of a project. These clients are very high performing individuals who demand a great deal from themselves, so they feel it is necessary to demand the same from their teams.

The resulting frustration, though, has prompted us to work together on how they might want to reduce the resulting anger and the stress.

More times than not the answer, from my clients, begins with…

What if I just reduced my expectations?

Followed immediately by…

But then, won’t that be giving them a pass?”


Expectations and frustration

Raman Chadha, Founder and Managing Partner at The Junto Institute, has written an enlightening three-part series, “Why Expectations are Unhealthy.”

The message he shares is that as he learned to lower his expectations, he raised his standards.

Having an expectation rarely takes the other person’s background, experiences, and understanding into account; it often lacks empathy. And that’s why expectations can not only be unhealthy for us but also harmful to our relationships.

So what’s the alternative? What’s healthier? Standards.

And the standards he refers to are what we manage in ourselves. Seeing expectations as abstract and subjective, Chadha describes standards as concrete and objective. Instead of us vs. them, he sees us vs. it. And rather than emotionally charged, standards are neutral and innocuous.

A beautiful shift in perspective.

Tina arrived to our coaching session this week saying,

I’ve had it up to here. I let my leadership know exactly what I expected and they let me down. Again. Nothing is going to happen, no matter what I say. This is exhausting. Maybe I’m being unreasonable.

Hearing her frustration, we worked on what she would rather be feeling.

I would like to release this anger. Put it down somewhere. But if I don’t say anything, I’m letting them and their bad behavior off the hook.

What if your focus is on what you want to experience?

I asked.

Well, I want to stop being disappointed by others. But I expect them…

After a long pause, she continued, pivoting significantly away from the expectations she had been demanding.

I wonder if I could shift the reporting structure, so I don’t have to deal with this lack of accountability every single week.

From there, Tina launched into a fascinating approach that she’d forgotten was possible. Instead of trying to ‘correct’ the behavior of another, she chose to work on what was within her power to change. She moved from holding on to an unmet expectation to establishing a standard she could manage in herself.



How to question your expectations

When you choose to let go of the expectation you have for another person, the sense of relief is almost immediate. You notice how much power you are handing to someone else when you actually know what to do. And if that ‘thing’ still has to be done, how might you approach the situation differently?

Using Ramah Chadha’s basic premise of shifting from expectations to standards, here are three questions to ask yourself:


First – What’s behind your expectation?

Maybe you’re longing to get a promotion, and are waiting for your VP to accept your documentation and move you into the role you want. You want them to push you through, rather than demonstrating why you are the person for this role.

Second –What part of this is your responsibility?

Following the rubric set up by your org, where do you know you’ve met the qualifications for the role you want? How have you established yourself with your team, cross functionally and outside the org? What is it you must do to put yourself into the game?

Third – How might you share what you want?

Now that you know what you want – you can get specific as you share how you add value. Select any number of areas where you’ve discovered this is your sweet spot. Consider those in your org who will vouch for your work. Create a standard for this role that you can fill.


My takeaway

Using these three questions, I’ve been able to challenge a series of unmet expectations that were driving me crazy this week alone.

By looking at the root of the expectation I have, seeing my role in what can be done and sharing what I know – I have more clarity. More ease in letting go of the expectation.

There are plenty of arenas in life and work where you will reach an agreement, with time and date, and hold others accountable. Those are ‘contracts’ that are mutually agreed upon, rather than an expectation it will get done.

The funniest part of asking myself these questions was abandoning the notion of letting someone off the hook. I consistently found that when I dropped the need to place an expectation on someone else it was I who was now off the hook. I didn’t have to monitor actions/behavior/outcomes. The result is completely up to them.

Don’t blame people for disappointing you, blame yourself for expecting too much from them.


Thanks for reading all the way to the end – I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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