The dangers of unstated expectations -- Part II

Unstated expectations are not always as blatant as not telling someone all of their job responsibilities. It can be as subtle as asking someone for a report, not telling them when it is due, and then being disappointed when it isn't done by the end of the day.

"Charlie, as the new warehouse supervisor, it is your responsibility to take care of the warehouse. Do a good job of it and you will get a big raise."

Naturally, Charlie is pretty excited about this. He has a new job with new responsibilities and a real chance for more money. But imagine how he feels a week later when his boss says, "Charlie, the trash hasn't been picked up all week and it's overflowing! What the heck is going on here?"

It's odd how we humans so often just assume that others will know intuitively what it is that we expect of them. In Charlie's case, all he was told was that he was the warehouse supervisor. He did not know that this also included making sure the trash is picked up. That expectation went unstated.

Unstated expectations are not always as blatant as not telling someone all of their job responsibilities. It can be as subtle as asking someone for a report, not telling them when it is due, and then being disappointed when it isn't done by the end of the day.

Why expectations are unstated
Sometimes not stating our expectations is due to a lack of proper organization. Maybe Charlie's boss hadn't thought through which duties would be Charlie's and which duties would be taken care of by others.

Sometimes, not stating our expectations is due to not wanting to be tied to specifics. We unfairly prefer the flexibility of changing our mind when it comes to our expectations of others. Our failure to think things through can be converted to someone else's failure to read our mind.

Some people are actually afraid to state specific expectations out of shyness or not wanting to confront others. They would prefer to accept less than satisfactory results than to clearly state expectations and expect commensurate performance.

Hidden relationships
Sometimes the relationships we have may not even look like relationships, and the presence of our expectations may be disguised. For instance, when we buy a product, we do so with some preconceived expectations of what it will do. Those expectations may have been the result of something a salesperson said, or something that we read in an advertisement or literature, or something that we created in our own minds. In any case, we have expectations for the product, and we hold the manufacturer or retailer accountable when they are not fully met.

Some practical tips to consider:

  • Regardless of what relationship you are dealing with, make sure you fully understand your own expectations out of that relationship.
  • Decide which of those expectations are firm, and which are negotiable.
  • With the degree of formality that befits the circumstances, communicate those expectations with others in that relationship.
  • Seek to learn and understand the expectations of others.
  • Make it a practice to state the unstated expectations.
  • When we find that we have not stated our expectations, is it due to:

>> Lack of proper organization?
>> Not wanting to be tied to specifics?
>> Shyness or fear of a confrontation?

Next in the series: The Struggle of Conflicting Expectations on SNEWS® Oct. 2, 2006

© Ascent Advising 2006 (reprinted exclusively by SNEWS® with permission)

Dave Bartholomew is a principal with Ascent Advising, providing wide-ranging business advisory services to companies around the globe. His 30 years in leadership roles in the outdoor industry equip him well for coming alongside business owners and executive teams in moving their companies ever upward. His popular email newsletter, “Adages from Ascent”, brings to light vital and innovative concepts for running a business. For a free subscription, and to view past issues of the newsletter, visit and follow the link for “Adages from Ascent”. Dave can be reached at or 206-669-7055.


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