Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Being Clear With Expectations

Many years ago in a one-room school, a teacher had assigned some work to the students and was in the cloakroom rearranging a few things.

She noticed to her dismay that a student had left a puddle in the middle of the floor.  Striding back into the classroom and asking for everyone’s full attention, she described what she had seen.  She concluded with this request: “However, there will be no punishment if the student responsible for this takes care it.  All the students and I will put our heads down and close our eyes and the student responsible will have an opportunity to go into the cloakroom and take care of the situation.  This way, no one needs to be embarrassed.”

Everyone put their head down and closed their eyes.  In a minute or so, a chair could be heard to push back, there was the patter of little feet heading to the back of the school and a minute later, there was again the patter of little feet and a chair being pulled in.

Everyone opened their eyes, the teacher assigned work to the students and went back to the cloakroom.

On the floor, she now noticed two puddles.

Meanwhile, on the wall in red crayon, was scrawled the phrase “The Phantom Strikes Again!!!”.

Expectations are funny, aren’t they?  We give people half a thought (or they give us one), and the person receiving the thought merrily goes about the task at hand, often times with a 50% chance or less of meeting the expectations of the other person.

When I communicate with people, I have always preferred to have expectations clearly understood up front with no room for ambiguity.  This desire for transparency and clarity sometimes irritates people since it requires them to have fully thought out their request before making it and it removes the opportunity for an excuse by any party should the expectation not be met.

It has also given me the nickname in some circles of “Literal Man”. :-)

It is better to possibly irritate people early on rather than deal with the larger, inevitable explosion that will result from not meeting expectations later.

It is a complex world that operates very quickly.  Ambiguity, ever slight, can magnify and get out of control very fast.  It’s like a house with a foundation that is off-square by half a degree in one corner.  While half a degree doesn’t seem much, by the time the builders get to the other end of the house, they find that the walls on the far side don’t come together at all and the foundation is ruined.

Take the time and set mutual expectations up front  Both parties will be grateful for it … and you will need fewer red crayons to explain yourself . :-)

In service and servanthood,

Literal Man …. I mean Harry :-)

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