The struggles of conflicting expectations - Part III

Part III in a series looks at when expectations conflict with reality.

Like many of you, I have enjoyed pursuing adventures all of my life. One of those was parachuting. One of the things they taught us was, as we approach the ground, do not look at it. Why? Because throughout our life, our experiences have taught us the rate at which we fall. But with a parachute, the rate is different; it is slower. Instinctively, we will start to absorb the impact of our fall by bending our legs. But with the rate of decent retarded by the parachute, our calculations are in error and we will have fully bent our knees just about the time we impact the ground. Our legs have no further ability to absorb the impact. Something has to give, and oftentimes it is the bones in our legs.

Putting this another way, our legs expect to impact that ground at one moment in time, but reality is something different. Our expectations are in conflict with reality.

We have all have experienced events such as:

  • We are eager for a quiet and relaxing Friday evening and our spouse has a to-do list.
  • As a salesperson, you want the new product to be very price competitive, but the people in design have made it so complicated, it will be the highest priced product in its class.

These disappointments, and many others, are due to conflicting expectations. It is naive to think we can eliminate conflicting expectations, just as it is naive to think that conflicting expectations will not arise. Conversely, it is wise to anticipate conflicting expectations and to work to minimize them, or at least prepare for them in advance.
Perhaps the to-do list can be quickly addressed, so the rest of the evening can be restful. And could the parameters of the new product be defined earlier in the process so expectations are not in conflict?

Some practical tips to consider:

  • When your expectations conflict with the expectations of others, do not fall prey to the temptations to overlook this issue. Instead, decide how firm you are in your expectations, and communicate with others to see if a middle ground can be reached.
  • Communicate with the other party that it is your view that expectations are in conflict. You may not fully understand their expectations, or perhaps they are able to modify their expectations to some degree.
  • If a middle ground cannot be found, determine if these conflicting expectations are tolerable, or if the relationship needs to be redefined.

Next in the series:The Law of Perpetually Expanding Expectations on SNEWS® Oct. 16, 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.


The advantages of managed expectations -- Part V

Some may construe managing expectations as manipulative, but it need not be. Expectations need to be managed or else disappointment is likely. The alternative is to just let expectations "happen" and thus leave meeting those expectations substantially up to chance. Regardless of more

The dangers of unstated expectations -- Part II

"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 more

Peter Haines and The Super Show part ways

The Super Show and its director for the last three years, Peter Haines, have parted ways, as of Jan. 28. As COO of show manager CSM, Haines came on in March 2002 with an option to buy the business that managed The Super Show for show owner SGMA. His goal was to return the more