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How to Set Workplace Expectations


We are all pulled in many different directions right now. But with this year’s continuing issues associated with the pandemic, there are new waters to navigate. We are worrying about distance learning, figuring out how to celebrate safely with whatever small holiday gathering we may have, and keeping up with work expectations.


So, let’s talk about this concept of expectations. It has come up quite a bit during my coaching conversations lately. If everyone’s expectations are not communicated clearly, things quickly become amiss. Teammates have different expectations of their co-workers. Leaders have different expectations than their direct reports, and vice versa. Frustration builds and communication comes to a screeching halt.


This is especially true in a virtual environment where emails are flying fast and furious. With limited in-person interaction, it is easy for information to get missed altogether, to be misunderstood, or to be miscommunicated.


How do you adjust expectations? How do you know if they are realistic? How do you know if the person on the screen or reading the email has the same set of expectations as you do? What are some strategies to clarify who is doing what, when, how, and why?


Strategies for Setting Expectations


  • First and foremost, begin with the end in mind. This is one of the core principles that Stephen Covey offered up in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Explain where you are going with the end result so that everyone is clear about the vision for success.

  • When you are working on a project together, send (or share through a platform like Google Docs) samples of your work along the way. Invite collaboration. Ask your co-worker or leader to send you a sample of how they would like the project completed. Simple questions on minor details, like “do you want a Word doc, Excel, or PDF?” can alleviate wasted time at work. It may seem silly to ask basic questions, but if your teammate or leader has a specific way they like to have things done, it can make your life a lot easier along the way.

  • Establish “check-in” points throughout the project right from the start. This allows you to be open and honest about how the project is progressing and how you can fix anything that comes up along the way. Remember, everyone involved is working together to succeed at a common goal.

  • If you do not know what others are expecting – ask. Discuss how people like to receive information or updates. Talk through what people need to bring the project to a successful completion. Do they need to review information ahead of time before speaking to results? Do they need to think through solutions first before bringing the team into the mix? Are they verbal processors and need to have open and frequent discussions to keep things on track? Do they need a list of deadlines and deliverables? Do they like to build relationships with each other while getting work done?


We are all different and have a unique approach for completing projects, right? If we expect someone to do things the way that we do them, we are setting ourselves and others up for failure unless we communicate and work together. Remember to focus on the end result and why it is important to the team and to the organization at large. If the goal is clear, and there are good milestones along the way, then how the other person gets there can reflect their own style and strengths. After all, utilizing your co-worker’s strengths will pave the way to a high-functioning and successful team where expectations are aligned, and everyone is happy with the outcome.

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