I have a confession to make. This article probably won’t be the most amazing article you’ve ever read. In my personal and admittedly biased opinion I think it’s still pretty awesome, but it’s not Pulitzer Prize material. It may bring a wry smile to your face, and give you a small epiphany or two, but you probably won’t have any eye-watering-belly-laughs or earth-shattering revelations.
So now that you know that, do you still want to continue? Good. I thought so.
What I did just then is a technique called “expectation management”. For those that are unfamiliar with this term allow me to break it down for you. Webster’s Dictionary defines expectations as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”, or “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.”
To put it simply, expectations are your “shoulds”. We all have beliefs and rules about the way we think things, people, events, ourselves, etc. “should” be, or how they’re going to be. When these “shoulds” are violated anger and disappointment tends to be the natural response.
So who cares? Why is this important? To answer those questions I’m going to tell you a story.
A Realistic Job Preview
Once upon a time, I worked at a call center doing market survey research. You know, those friendly people who call you at the most annoying and inopportune times to ask you take a short 5 minute survey? Yeah, I was that guy. You’re welcome.
To be honest, it was a rough job, but on the bright-side I got to learn some useful social skills, and a lot of cool new swear words, so it wasn’t all bad. However, looking back I think that one of the most useful things that job taught me was the importance of expectation management.
The job interview was easy. As long as you had a pulse, a willingness to work, and could intelligently operate a telephone you were in. However, after I got hired I wasn’t allowed to start working until I attended a 1-hour meeting with many of the other new hirees. In this meeting they gave us all a realistic, detailed, and rather disheartening preview of what it would really be like to work there. They let us know that we would likely have to deal with a LOT of angry, rude, and obnoxious people on a daily basis, that we would have to work long hours, that we would be working at a desk surrounded by lots of other people, that there were rotating shifts using the same desks so we couldn’t put up pictures or anything personal... on and on it went. They even played a recording of a sample call in which a guy named “Gary” found a lot of creative ways of telling the operator to go to hell before he finally hung up.
At the end of it all I was asked “Are you sure that you can handle these working conditions?” If not, no hard feelings. Every one of us was free to opt out. There were one or two that decided against working there, but believe it or not, the vast majority of the people in that meeting, along with myself, chose to stay, despite knowing how hard it would be. Turns out this response was pretty typical of the job preview meeting.
Now years later I understand the wisdom of that one-hour meeting. It was expectation management at its finest. See, it’s not uncommon for call centers to have ridiculously high annual turnover rates. People quitting left and right. However, a raft of studies found that this technique of giving potential employees a “warts-and-all” view of what they can expect day-to-day cuts those turnover rates down significantly. Everyone goes into the job rid of any rose-colored glasses knowing exactly how good and how bad it will be. That way, the first time they get a client that screams at them they’re not so shocked, angry, and disappointed that they soon quit. They were fully expecting it and taught how to handle it.
This technique doesn’t just work for call centers, it’s been shown to work in a variety of different professions and situations, and it can work wonders for you & your family.
So the next time you see a potential disappointment on the horizon, or when you might have to deviate from the norm let your child know well in advance. Will it stress them out? Probably. Is it still preferable to them having their expectations for what “should” be shattered in the moment? Definitely. When we manage other’s expectations by being straightforward about what’s realistically possible it’s a way of vaccinating them against future anger and disappointment.
Not to say that we should spend our days outlining every bad thing that could possibly go wrong. If you told Johnny we’re having spaghetti for dinner (his favorite), but you’re only 50% sure that you’ll be able to get to the store today to acquire the ingredients then it’s probably a good idea to inform him of the real possibility that we might be having chicken instead.
Also, want to know what’s even better than managing expectations?
Meaning, we create the plans and protocols together, and you have a valid voice and a part in making those decisions. Some examples of this would be creating a menu plan as a family, or drafting a Responsibility Agreement with your child.
Here’s the bottom line, folks: violated expectations are THE single most common source of anger, frustration & Defense Mode that we see every day in our own relationships, and in the lives of the thousands of individuals just like you that we interact with on a daily basis.
So learning how to effectively manage expectations is probably one of the most important relationship skills you could ever learn. In fact, it’s so important there’s a whole entire section of our Communication course devoted to just that.
Just think about how much conflict and disappointment could be instantly removed from your relationships by applying this one simple technique. So go ahead, give it a try. The results might surprise you.
Want more help & step-by-step guidance on managing expectations and communicating effectively with people with Asperger's? Get our Foundations of Communication course here.