Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.
A foundation to executive coaching is to help my client listen to the truth found in the story. Whether it is feedback, experience, success or failure, the truth (facts and realities of our stories) will help us get to the next level as leaders.
A recent coaching session not only illustrates this but is the subject of today’s post.
With very little “small talk”, Mike* begins with the statement, “It’s been a rough week.” Immediately he proceeds to share three stories from his past week:
- A necessary employee release
- A difficult conversation with a service provider
- A disappointing experience with a potential strategic partner
As he details the narratives, one key word continues to surface in my mind: expectations. When he finishes the last account I ask, “How do expectations play in each of these stories?”
When are expectations NOT present?
For coaching around expectations, oxygen is my analogy of choice.
Think about it, how much attention do you give to your need for oxygen? Unless you have a medical condition, not much, right? Most of us take oxygen into our lungs without thinking about it…inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale … breathing.
Much like our relationship with oxygen, is there ever a moment that we don’t have an expectation? Think through your day … do you expect the alarm to go off or the front desk to call? Do you expect light with the flip of the switch? Do you expect a change in room temperature with the adjustment of the thermostat? Do you expect hot water when you turn the left water faucet? What do you expect when you put the key in your car’s ignition?
On and on all day long … we take oxygen, without thinking about it … expectations are continuous.
What about those moments of unmet expectations?
The hot water tank mysteriously stops producing during the night…COLD shower! What’s your response? Running a few minutes behind schedule for a big appointment, every traffic light IS a red stop light? How do you respond?
How about frustrated?
Yes, feelings of disappointment or exasperation come when our plans are hindered or our desires go unmet … frustration is often the default setting.
Frustrate comes from the Latin root, meaning to disappoint, Webster defines frustrate:
: to balk or defeat in an endeavor; b. to induce feelings of discouragement in; to make ineffectual; bring to nothing: impede, obstruct
Frustration is a fear-based emotion triggered when we feel threatened. In the case of expectations frustration can be a response to real or perceived opposition to our goals, plans, or desires. What comes with fear? That’s right, an inclination to “fight or flee”.
How are relationships affected?
We just rehearsed some every day, unconscious expectations … hot water, lights on, car starting, a close parking space, and green lights all the way to the office. Such expectations can go unmet and produce frustration. Mature self-awareness and self-control keeps the frustration in check.
The greater challenge involves our expectations with self and others. What happens to a relationship when we believe someone is hindering our success or blocking fulfillment of a desire? We can experience the same fear-based emotion of frustration.
What happens when what we want from another person is not delivered? What happens when we think another person is standing in opposition to our success?
In such a moment the fear creates disharmony and it is a small step to conflict. An unfulfilled expectation triggers the fear-based emotion of frustration opening the door to interpersonal conflict.
The Missing E’s of Expectation Harmony
Notice the natural progression that leads to this interpersonal conflict do to expectations.
- unEXPRESSED – How well did I communicate of the expectation?
- unEXAMINED – What resources are needed, is it doable?
- unFULFILLED – Why isn’t it happening?
- Interpersonal Conflict – Why am I so frustrated with …?
Mike made the connection. As we listened to each of the stories and reflected on the truth (facts) he did not clearly set expectations. If he is frustrated, how might the other people be feeling?
To reduce relationship conflict and achieve desired outcomes, expectations must be well expressed and examined in order to be executed.
Where are you frustrated and with who, self or others? What expectation is NOT being met?
What is your experience around expectations? Please share your comments below.