I have been grappling with unmet expectations these past few weeks. Mountain weather is one example. Les Schwab removed my snow tires last week as part of the seasonal switch. This morning, a weather forecast warns of an approaching “winter” snow storm and dashes my expectations for continued warm weather and favorable travel conditions, forcing me to change travel plans.
Such unmet expectations are minor inconveniences that disappoint me. I struggle much more when I hold unmet expectations about people.
We all hold expectations, some consciously and some subconsciously. When groups do not behave as we expect them to, we encounter the expectations trap. We fall into the trap when we hold onto expectations that are continually unmet. This trap creates conflict in our minds and robs us of creative energy. But we can learn to avoid it or cope with it when we’ve fallen.
1. Make Expectations Known to Yourself
Hidden expectations have a great deal of power to push us into the trap. When this happens to me, I feel bad and do not even know what the problem is. I swirl in frustration. When I finally realize that the problem relates to my expectations, I have the ability to assess them and the situation. Which do I want to change? Which can I change? Typically, I find the most challenging trap involves situations that I care deeply about and am powerless to change. To my chagrin, they call on me to change my expectations. I find it difficult to do this. But at least I now understand the problem.
What hidden expectations, both positive and negative, do you have about your workgroup that you could uncover and then assess for yourself? How do they influence your behavior as a group member? As a group leader?
2. Consider What You Already Know About the Group
I have paid good money to have my therapist tell me that everything I needed to know to make a key decision about a group, I had come to know two years earlier. My past experience had repeated itself a few times. I simply failed to acknowledge this to myself.
We carry around a lot of wisdom based on past experience that can remain unrecognized. Scan the past. What do you already know about the group that could help you assess your expectations and the situation? What do you already know about a similar situation that you could generalize to your current situation?
3. Differentiate Hope from Expectations
I hold onto hope. I work at letting go of unmet expectations that trap me. The word “hope” means to want something to happen. Expectations keep me believing that something will happen. Holding onto unmet expectations causes strife and I could do without that. But at the same time, I do not need to relinquish my desire for something.
Vaclav Havel wrote,
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit…an ability to work for something to succeed.
Working for something to succeed as we let go of unmet expectations is a mindset and a skill. It takes practice. The path toward the success we desire might appear foreign, contradictory, or scary. Working with groups has taught me this. Being in relationships has taught me this. Living in the mountains has taught me this.