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Assumptions and Expectations

Two things that I try and avoid are making assumptions and having or creating expectations. Both involve a scenario for the future in which I do not have all of the information and both can lead to disappointment, for me, and for you. First let’s talk about assumptions.

Brian W. Pascal
Why is it that whenever we find out one piece of information that we so easily jump to conclusions? Mostly it is a bad habit that many of us have developed which leads us to make uninformed guesses or assumptions. Assumptions are at least fifty percent wrong and often only half right. The only thing for certain about assumptions is that they always make an “ass” out of u and me.

One of the most famous assumptions in American history occurred when the pollsters in the 1948 U.S. Presidential election assumed that Thomas E. Dewey would beat Harry S. Truman. One newspaper, the Chicago Daily Tribune, even printed their next day edition with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”. After it was distributed the final results showed the mess that had been created by their assumptions at the newspaper.

Today we assume too many things. We use assumptions too often to make decisions. These are often decisions that can have great impact. If we hear something bad about somebody we quickly assume that it might be true. Many reputations, relationships and careers have been ruined because an allegation got turned into an assumption.

Expectations are just another variation on the same theme. Unless expectations of others, particularly subordinates are formalized and laid down in writing, they become a wish list that exists only in your head. The only one who will be impacted by these unwritten expectations is you, usually by being disappointed or worse.

In order to avoid that disappointment at work you need to provide
clear direction on what you expect in all aspects of work such as productivity, quality, communication, teamwork and even hours of work. If you do that you have some hope of an employee meeting your expectations. Otherwise it really is hopeless, and frustrating.

It’s the same with your superiors. If you want something from them, ask for it. I had an employee once who left because I wouldn’t give him a raise. His problem, and I guess mine, was that he never asked for a raise. He had an expectation that I would give him one and I failed to meet that expectation so he left.

You may need to have a quick chat with your supervisor or boss. Ask them what they expect from you and ask them to be specific. Also ask them how you will be evaluated against these expectations, and perhaps most importantly what resources will you be able to access to be successful in your job.

If you have been around the same job or the same boss for a few years they might scratch their bald head or look at you funny. But you had still better ask the questions because you need to know what they think they expect from you. If they say, “just show up,” you are off the hook.

If they don’t have answers for you right away, don’t be surprised if they come back in a few days and want to have a chat about expectations. If they don’t then you will still have opened the door and at some point that discussion will surface, particularly if there is a spot of trouble in the workplace or your particular area.

Be careful about creating false expectations from either your superiors or those you supervise. This can only end badly. With your boss, don’t promise more than you can reasonably deliver and don’t accept additional assignments without additional resources to complete them. Not only will you fail but you will have created an expectation from those above you that this is an acceptable way to be treated. It will continue. Guaranteed.

In dealing with your subordinates, never promise anything that is not in your power, and authority, to deliver. If you are a new supervisor or manager, resist that temptation to be liked and loved by your staff. Remember that just as you only have one chance to make a good first impression, you only get one chance to create a false expectation and your long term credibility is more important than being liked.

At the end of the day our assumptions tend to be false and unfounded and our expectations are never as good or as bad as we hoped. Perhaps that is a good thing. I have learned to live my life by the words of that great philosopher, Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, who said “I find it easier to live my life with lowered expectations”. I couldn’t agree more.


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