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Defining & Communicating Expectations: A Critical Component of a Healthy Workplace

I believe the number one cause of conflict in both the workplace and your personal life is unfulfilled expectations. The number one reason for expectations going unfulfilled is – you guessed it – nobody knows what they are. We are diligent in ensuring that a high level of detail, complete with key performance indicators, are put in place to ensure both project based and operational success. Its amazing that we don’t put the same level of effort into our daily interpersonal interactions.

Workplace culture can be loosely defined by a myriad of unspoken (read: tacitly understood) expectations. As the culture of the workplace begins to shift either organically or by design, conversations about expectations are often overlooked which may lead to conflict. When thinking about your place of work, ask yourself these questions: Is there unhealthy conflict in the workplace? Does everyone know what is expected of them? Is the environment safe enough to have the discussion?

How does one go about defining, and then actually communicating, their expectations? Well, I’m not really a “Step 1, Step 2” kind of guy so I will leave it to you to decide whether or not this makes sense and if so, how to best go about implementing a change given your individual circumstances. Here is an exercise that may help you get started: think about the last interaction you had with someone that did not go well. Now ask yourself: did I know what I wanted from the exchange? Did I tell the other person what I wanted? Could their position be seen as entirely reasonable if they were facing a set of circumstances that they did not communicate to me?

Public Servants the world over are facing great challenges in the face of economic turmoil both at home and abroad. There has been no greater time than the present to sit down and examine our role in the context of the community in which we live and in the lives of the people whom we serve. I believe that a key component of ensuring success in this regard is clearly communicating what our expectations are for those with whom we work and; in turn, understanding what is expected of us.

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Victor S. Paola

Its a good point, Robert – it is difficult to maintain focus when you are in the heat of the moment. What I have found to be useful is staying curious – when faced with opposition, I ask questions to try and figure out where the person is coming from – to determine what it is they want. By coming from a place of curiosity, the hope is that it will sound less like an interrogation and more like a genuine desire to understand their perspective. Thanks for commenting!

Jack Shaw

You make good points, but I think the workplace far more complicated than unspoken expectations and is most often ego driven. If not “ego,” then position protected. Workplace culture is the result of what I call “egos a-blazin’,” which basically means its few if any really have others at the heart of their concern. Its usually career despite the rhetoric. Should we be better communicators? You bet. Truly listen to others. Always. Care about others’ welfare? Therein lies the problem.

Communicating expectations are great but usually when a supervisor does it, he or she leaves room for maneuvering. Need to know, or keep it to yourself to use later. Separation of worker and management. It happens more often than not. My cynicism is based on long and varied experiences. We need changes to the workplace culture, and the focus shouldn’t always be on us to adapt to the will of those at the top, without real discussion, without real trust. There is a reasonable level of communication that does help the workers understand, but if they don’t trust it to be without hidden agendas, it won’t work at all. Trust is key to ensuring success–right alongside clear communication.