Tip #428: The Importance of Managing Expectations

“Remember, our conduct is influenced not by our experience but by our expectations.” George Bernard Shaw

We’ve all experienced this. We ask for directions and hear something like: “Stay on this road a little while until you come to a turnoff.” Unfortunately, “a little while” is woefully vague. There is little if any correlation between the direction giver’s “little while” and our assumption regarding how long that actually might be. This answer does not manage our expectations. Instead, it feeds into our assumptions about what a “little while” might be. Then we stress when it seems that we have driven much too far and must be lost.

However, we have at least been given the courtesy of a response. If we were alert, we could ask for more specific information about the actual distance we would need to travel. We would manage our own expectations.

But what about the times when we rely in good faith on someone and they raise false expectations?

I have just spent an agonizing day waiting for a critical medical report.

I had already waited 4 days, with the promise and expectation that if I called in the morning, I would get the report. I called at 9 a.m. and was told that someone “would call me back.” Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify that statement.

I naively hoped it meant someone would call back within the hour.

So I waited and waited and finally, after three hours, called again. At 12:00 p.m., I was told that the doctor would not be able to call me until after 5: 15 p.m., so his nurse would call me. That sounded reasonable and imminent. So I waited and waited and, at 3:00 p.m. I called again and was told that the nurse needed to discuss the report with the doctor. I was cautioned that the doctor would not be able to call me until after 5:15 p.m. So I waited and then I waited some more. That call never came. I still don’t know the results of my medical test.

I think that the nurses who kept answering my calls were truly trying to be helpful. They acknowledged my anxiety and tried to alleviate my concern by promising something over which they had absolutely no control. It would have been so much better if they had managed my expectations by admitting that they were not in a position to even guess when I would get a call.

Now what about the doctor? Either he ran into complications that took longer than originally planned- or he was never told I that I expected him to call. If the former, the very least he could have done was have his nurse call to tell me that I would have to wait until the next day to hear about the report. I would have been disappointed and frustrated, but my expectations would have been managed. I would have been able to relax and stop hovering by the phone.

I won’t even address the possibility that he didn’t realize that I expected him to call.

The nurses meant well. I know that the doctor is a kind and caring soul. If only someone had realized how important it was to manage my expectations. Instead, every time the phone rang, my heart rate increased and my anxiety spiked. And every time it was not the doctor, I barked at the caller and immediately got off the line.

Please, manage expectations. It is much kinder in the long run to manage expectations than to raise false hopes.

May your learning be sweet.


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