So much of how we experience each other bounces off everything that is left unsaid.

Expectations about how good the movie would be.

Expectations about what was meant when you were told “the meeting will start at 10:00.”

Expectations about how we will dress.

Expectations about what it means to do this job.

Expectations about what it means to work for you.

Expectations about who gets to have good ideas.

Expectations about who gets to say yes, and no.

Expectations about who gets to speak when.

Expectations about how, and how much, to agree and disagree.

Expectations about where we do our best work.

Expectations about whether showing up in person matters.

Expectations about how much care we put into saying “thank you.”

Expectations about what it means to listen, and the relative importance of listening and speaking.

Expectations about how a President is supposed to act.

Expectations about who can and cannot leave the office first.

Expectations about what silence means (in a meeting, when I don’t hear back from you).

Expectations about what you mean when you say “I’ll take it from here.”


It turns out that most of how we experience in the world comes from sense-making, and sense-making is a comparison between what happened and the sum total of everyone’s unspoken expectations.

Think for a moment about what this means if you’re working across…anything really: geography, culture, class, religion, age, gender, or even just two groups within the same organization.

More often than not, misunderstandings come from forgetting how different each of our expectations are, and from the mental shortcuts we all take as we fill in blanks (“what did that really mean?”) based all of our unconscious biases.


6 thoughts on “Expectations

  1. If I understand your question: it is about how we make sense of our interactions, and how natural it is to project our own assumptions (that are rarely made explicit) into that interpretive process.

  2. This is SO true in every interaction. I am finding out how true each day. We recently built a website and my expectation for how things would work turns out to be very different from the developers expectation. I assumed that some functionality was obvious, because it’s the way most websites I experience work, and they did not make those same assumptions. Because I didn’t spell out the expectations in the contract, I am now having to pay for functionality I took for granted. This has been a very important and expensive lesson. I hope it has taught me to be more specific.

  3. I have always struggled and suffered because of expectations. So is it about Moderating expectations or is there another way to ensure they don’t get in the way of personal and professional peace of mind?

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