Let’s Talk About Managing Expectations
This is one of my favorite phrases. I use it in business all of the time. I’ve found it serves me well at work. I love it so much, I’ve started using the practice in my personal relationships.
What does it mean to manage expectations? In its simplest form, it’s about being honest and straightforward about how, what and when you are able to deliver an outcome. When you’re managing expectations, you’re not folding to pressure. You’re making sure to be reasonable so that the person on the other end feels confident and comfortable that you’ll do what you say.
You want to be a person of your word, right?
It seems that somewhere along the way, people (and particularly women) were made to feel as though we need to hyper commit. That we must “do it all” and fit 30 hours of effort into a 24-hour day. Instead of managing expectations, many of us find ourselves agreeing to things we simply cannot (or will not) fulfill. We feel bad when we say no to an ask. So we say yes. And then find ourselves apologizing when some unspoken “timely fashion” has passed or we’ve had to cancel something at the last minute because we ran out of time (or steam).
Nobody wins here. Committing and then flaking only serves to breed resentment.
Let’s consider how airlines have been managing expectations. You may have noticed if you’ve taken a flight in the last few years that almost every flight seems to arrive on time (barring any delays, of course). I’ve found lately my flights actually arrive early. This wasn’t always the case. It used to be that, even when a flight wasn’t delayed, you’d arrive later than expected. So what changed? It’s not like the airports are any closer. It’s called schedule padding. Airline execs realized that, even when a flight is the same duration it has always been, when you under promise and over deliver, people walk away from their experience happier. When you tell someone you’re going to take 4 hours of their time and you only take 3 1/2, they’re delighted. (There’s a whole slew of other reasons airlines pad their schedules. We won’t get into those here.)
That’s what it means to manage expectations.
Get serious about what you’re willing to dedicate your limited time to each day/week/month. And be unapologetic about it! Consider all the things that you want or need (family time, exercise, meal prep, reading a book, planning for the start of school, and on and on). Every choice you make about what you do isn’t just about making plans. It’s actually about spending your most precious resource - your time. When you think about the totality of your commitments, you can put that request to coach your kid’s soccer team or whatever else you’re being asked to do into perspective.
Here are some perfectly acceptable responses to requests of your time, depending on your willingness to commit.
No, thank you. (Remember, no is a full sentence and you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your use of it.)
I would love to, but I cannot commit right now.
Yes, but let me be clear about (how, what, when)…
Remember that saying no or not right now isn’t an indictment on the other person or what they’re asking you to do. And if they make you feel that it is, that’s literally their problem, not yours. When you manage expectations, you feel less guilty and the person on the other end has a clearer understanding of how much time or effort you’re able to give.
And that makes everyone happy!