Expectations are the Root of ALL Issues


Or should I say unspoken expectations are the root of all issues.


According to Brene Brown, in her new book Atlas of the Heart, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”


How many times have you had expectations that were not met?


Or had expectations put on you that you did not meet?


Everyone reading this should be raising their hand or nodding their head yes right now. We are human and we have thoughts and feelings - about everything! These thoughts and feelings are also known as expectations. Some we place a higher priority on over others, some we state out loud, but most we don’t. We have an inherent belief that people “should know”, after all they are competent in their jobs, or they already know what you want and need since you’ve been connected for so long, or you’ve told them once before so therefore it should stick.


The problem is that we assume an awful lot about other people and the importance that we play in their lives. We assume that what we expect is a priority for them. We assume that they understand. We assume that they agree. Or we assume that they remember. But as humans, we are only able to process between 34 to 74 GB of information a day (depending on what source you reference) versus the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data produced in the world daily. Talk about information overload! Yet we assume that what we say, want, need will be retained in those 34 to 74 GB that we take in daily (which PS is significantly higher than years past).


We are disappointed, let down, frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed, etc. when our expectations are not met. Brene Brown continues with “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.” There is so much truth in this quote that I find myself being embarrassed by taking far too long in my life to figure out the disconnect between expectations and problems in relationships (peers, employees, bosses…partners and significant others, best friends…and the list goes on and on).


Being the nerd that I am, let’s break expectations down into a four quadrant grid for ease of understanding:



This framework analyzes our expectations based on whether we’ve shared them with anyone (expressed or unexpressed) vs their internalization (understood or misunderstood or simply unknown) of the information.


Quadrant 1 is ideal and really where we want to be, in a world where we are able to share our expectations with those around us AND they internalize and understand the expectations to be able to act on them. This is the sweet spot where communication happens and relationships are strengthened as there is a common or mutual understanding of what is (or isn’t).


Quadrant 2, however, is more common than it probably should be. This is where we state our expectations and feel that we’ve done it well. We assume that the person really hears and understands what we say, when actually they don’t hear or understand what we are saying at all. This is certainly a communication breakdown where we are speaking at someone and not really having a conversation - and as you would imagine, can lead to great frustration and resentment.


Quadrant 3, the unicorn! This is the place where you have not expressed your expectations, wants or needs, yet the person(s) you are engaging with already know (or get really lucky). This really will only happen when someone is very intuitive or empathic. This type of support is an anomal and when this happens, praise their effort and count your lucky stars that it happened (because it’s likely to not happen again or on the reg).


Finally, quadrant 4 is the place that we tend to go the most often. We have a request, want, or need but we don’t share it - we expect someone to just know it. Brene Brown calls these “stealth expectations” as they fly in under the radar and are missed entirely. This is the bucket where we assume that the person already knows what we want without ever saying it. But they don’t know. They have no idea actually. We have put an expectation on them that they have no awareness of, so of course they don’t meet it, and then we have lots of emotions about it too.


Hence my initial claim - expectations are the root of all issues…or more clearly put, unexpressed and un-internalized expectations are the root of all issues.


What do you do with this information?

  1. Understand what your expectations really are and gut check them to make sure that they are in line with reality.

  2. Let your expectations be known in a discussion with those who need to act on it.

  3. Make no assumptions that they get it if you haven’t validated that they get it. Make sure not only that you state your expectations, but that they truly hear, understand, and are crystal clear on what they need to be doing to meet those expectations.

  4. Keep open dialogue with them on how those expectations are being met. Give positive or constructive feedback. Be open to compromise or other ideas - after all, it is a relationship that we are really talking about (not just “the work” or whatnot).

With more awareness and communication, relationships can thrive, wants and needs can be met, people are more satisfied (a.k.a. happier) and the world is a much better place.


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