Mind the (Expectation) Gap. In the gap between expectation and reality, so-called “negative” emotions flourish. Raising our awareness of ourselves and our expectations can make a big difference – and not just to us.
Working with our clients at Untapped, one thing becomes crystal clear. While every person is unique, everyone experiences “negative” emotions. Frustration. Anger. Disappointment. Apathy. Fear. Loathing. Self-doubt. Resentment. Guilt. Shame.
As part of embracing and accepting ourselves as whole-hearted humans, it’s necessary to explore, accept and learn to work with the full spectrum of emotions, not just the ones we like, or perceive to be positive.
And yet. We continue to expect things of ourselves, of others, of situations, organisations, governments, societies, environments, which are simply not realistic. Not only are they not realistic, they are often not within our control to influence, rendering our ability to meet those expectations even more futile.
But perhaps, in some areas, we do have more control than we may think. We do have the ability to consciously recognise, accept and explore the expectation gaps, and thereby mitigate their impact on ourselves, and on other people.
What we expect of others
Whether it’s our managers, teams, partners, families or friends, we all have expectations of others. Sometimes we’re well aware of them and sometimes they’re less obvious – but we all know the feeling of having those expectations dashed.
But how well did we express and communicate those expectations? Countless relationship advice articles remind us that people are not psychic, that they don't know what we want unless we communicate our needs and wants. Yet, too often, we continue to expect people to read between the lines.
Within organisations, the impact of this can be extremely detrimental on all sides. When expectations are not clearly explained, how can they be met? Yet how much thought do we put into what those expectations are when assigning a task or project? From individual to organisational level, expectations have a huge role to play.
If you’ve ever sat staring at a blank presentation deck, feeling the pressure mount but not having a clue where to start because you don’t know what’s expected, you’ll know the feeling. And it may be familiar from the other side of the desk when a team member presents something totally different to what we were expecting. “How could they get it so wrong?” you may wonder. “That’s not what I wanted at all.”
We are often quick to judge others as underperforming when they don’t meet our expectations, but if those expectations were ambiguous or even entirely absent from the task set, who is really at fault? How well did we outline the task and required output?
What we expect of ourselves
Working with high performing people at all levels of businesses, it’s clear to see that most people are hard on themselves at times – and some much more than others. We berate ourselves for not being good enough, clever enough, productive, hard-working or successful enough. We feel we’re failing our companies when we focus on family, but our families miss out when we focus on work – and what about friends, physical health, spirituality, emotional fulfilment?
The pressure we place on ourselves to live up to impossible expectations is huge. And without stopping to interrogate our expectations and ability to live up to them, we simply continue to feel more and more as though we’re failing.
So what do we do about it?
The first step, as with so many things we work on with people at Untapped, is self-awareness.
Recognising the expectation gaps where they exist, and exploring why they exist, is an important step. We must hold ourselves accountable for the expectations we impose on others, often without their knowledge, and consider why we have them, whether they are achievable, and how we can better communicate – or adapt – them.
Acceptance and action will follow. Whether that means actively changing our expectations, or consciously pre-empting and therefore changing our reactions if they are not met, only you can decide. It’s not always about lowering expectations; in fact, high expectations can bring out the best in us and challenge us to raise our respective game.
Gaining a deeper understanding of the roots of so-called “negative” emotions is a powerful way to gain more control over them. We cannot get rid of them, because they are as much a part of us as the positives, but we can seek to acknowledge, understand and limit the power they hold over us, and the impact they can have on others. Whatever aspect of life you’re considering, remember to be mindful of the gaps.