Violating Expectations

This was an interesting concept that was raised in Youtube collaboration between Matt D’Avella and Thomas Frank in a video on “How to Become a Productivity Master“. I’ve watched a number of videos by these two guys individually and they often provide me with food for thought, although I also feel like “self-help” videos such as these are often just sharing what the creators have figured out which we would actually benefit more from figuring out on our own, without resorting to the internet for answers; this is a bad habit to get into (obviously I’m telling you this because I too am now sharing something I’ve learned about myself!)

“Violating Expectations” (as is mentioned at 7:50 in the video) can occur in all types of relationships but I immediately thought of romantic ones and work-related ones. The idea is that we develop expectations of others, and they of us, and when they/we don’t live up to this this can lead to a distasteful feeling, from frustration or at worst anger.

It is possible to better manage expectations though as I realise I have done in various aspects of my life.

With regards to work I am self-employed and I have clients contact me when they need help to resolve computer issues. I’m not sure how soon into my venture I started doing this, but I got into the routine of only switching my phone on or replying to e-mails during business hours. It surprises me how many people will try and contact me outside of these hours even for things that aren’t so urgent, perhaps just to drop me a message for me to handle the next day. The problem I have with this is that I might still pick up this message, say in the evening, or on a Sunday (or both, yes it boggles my mind that there are people who consider these to be normal work hours) and then I have their issue plaguing my mind until the next day. This is not great when you’ve already had a busy day of work and want to enjoy some time out; if someone tells me about an issue they are experiencing then I automatically start thinking about solutions – I am effectively already working on the problem and not yet being paid for that.

Having my evenings and weekends interrupted by my phone ringing is something I don’t like; as much as I appreciate work coming my way, I still need time-out.

  • There are people who expect me to have e-mails coming through on my phone for which I can reply to straight away, any time of day or night. I don’t.
  • There are people who expect me to be on Facebook. I’m not.
  • There are people who I’ve never dealt with before who expect me to respond to the briefest of text messages.

I’ve had people find out where I live and turn up at my home with faulty laptop in hand; for neighbours this might be acceptable, but when it’s someone I hardly know it seems wholly inappropriate.

Likewise, I have my own expectations of others and also some tactics I employ to guide them so.

With that previous example I have on such an occasion handed someone a business card and told them to phone me to make an appointment informing them “I don’t work from home.”

There is the risk of some people getting used to me being at their beck-and-call and this is where switching my phone off in the evenings and at the weekends and not replying to emails instantly helps to keep my relationships with clients on a professional level, although not too professional since where I live work life it is more normal than others for interactions with others to be more relaxed and casual. Evenings and weekends for me though are about friends and family, and having time to myself, and being in contact with clients at these times would surely blur those lines. The same could also be considered for family members that might treat my self-employed status as rather casual and think it’s acceptable to badger me during work hours – sometimes this can provide a much needed break or perhaps I’m having a quiet day at work but I consider what is acceptable or what might become a norm.

Responding too quickly to clients can lead to them finding it all too easy to get in touch with me more often about minor things for which they could find alternative solutions, and before I know it I’m spending more time responding to such things than actually getting paid work done. I remember one particular client that had phoned me numerous times over the months with minor queries until he contacted me this one time to quiz me about the capacity of the storage drive I had supplied with his computer; I couldn’t recall off the top of my head if it was one size or another and it was just a minor query that his friend had asked him about – I’d supplied the machine probably a year prior and I’d not seen him since and he got frustrated with me when I replied simply with “I don’t know off the top of my head” with him arguing that “after all the money he’d spent with me I should be more helpful” (the bulk of that money had been spent on the parts of that computer, and the rest used to pay me for originally setting it up.) He could have found out the specs for himself or dug out his invoice, rather than have me stop what I was doing and do the same; if I thought the phone call would have lead to some paid work I would have been more obliging!

With regards to romantic relationships I have come to recongnise that we often (it’s certainly hard not to) build up expectations of others, and once that “honeymoon period” comes to an end there can arise some friction when perhaps one starts requiring more personal space or doing their own thing and the two people drift away from being on the same page. As is said in the video this can make people angry; we certainly see this in abusive relationships; it takes them out of the order they have become accustomed to and throws them into I kind of chaos and turmoil – it’s a threat to the way they live. Here is where fight or flight can kick in; with some people getting angry and trying to be controlling and force things to be a certain way, while others might give up and walk away. Indeed, one might flee while the other is dead-set on fighting, or both might be set on fighting it out and a power-struggle ensues, or, perhaps what might be best is both flee (although in some cases learning to resolve differences rather than fleeing can be beneficial to avoid missed opportunities).

One doesn’t necessarily need to tell someone what their expectations are, indeed I think some subtle hints can work, as can putting those practices into place as I have above to subtly encourage people to treat you how you’d prefer. Of course some guidelines such as stating your working/hours somewhere is helpful. Breaking down what people take to be acceptable or normal in their books can be tricky but fun. Subtly implying something can work, although not everyone takes such hints. Having people tell me “I’ve been trying to contact you!” and asking when that was to be told something like “Sunday” is sure fun to explain that I was with family on that day. Some people think that “If you want the business you’ll be available…” likewise I think “If they want my help they’ll try again…” Some work might be lost in being too strict, but it can help maintain a manageable and healthy work-life balance.

Title image c/o Freepik.

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One comment

  1. My personal feelings about setting expectations are that I try to set them low, quickly, but often end up over performing resulting in false future expectations.

    But, in general, what I do with communications is what I expect from others: respond quickly, but with conditions.
    “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I can provide you an answer by the end of the day tomorrow.”

    Or often I just respond with: “Received, will review and reply as I’m able.”

    So often an inquiry is just a “are you still there?” — ” and if so, can you help me with X?”

    ACK inquiries is, to me, the first step in setting expectations — as low as possible.

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