You may not be aware of it, but as an entrepreneur or a business owner, you’re constantly trying to meet everyone's expectations, including your own. It’s what drives you to succeed and thrive in your industry, but it can also lead to a tremendous amount of stress. The truth is, you have limits and, therefore, can’t make everyone happy. Accepting this reality is the first step towards managing your own expectations and everyone else's.
The next step is to understand how you as an individual react or respond to these expectations. Do they motivate you or pose a challenge for you? Becoming aware of your tendencies and recognizing your weaknesses will enable you to handle expectations more efficiently with less amount of stress.
Internal vs external expectations
An expectation is the belief that something or a certain action should yield a determined result. Expectations influence our behavior and decision making. In the business world, you will notice how these expectations dictate how you perform a task or resolve issues. Expectations come in two forms: internal and external.
Internal expectations are the beliefs you set for yourself and how you expect yourself to behave in certain circumstances. Entrepreneurs, quite naturally, are idealists and self-driven, therefore, tend to set high expectations for themselves and others. On one hand, setting high standards for the quality of work you produce will set you apart from competition, and help gain the trust and respect from clients and employees. Conversely, setting unrealistic or uncalculated targets for yourself can become detrimental to your self-confidence and mental health. You might place pressure on yourself to complete a task in a shorter amount of time or in a quality that might not be feasible with the resources you have at hand. The stress of meeting these high expectations will inevitably catch up on you and your business. This is when you need to stop and reevaluate your expectations to match the reality of your situation and what you’re capable of doing with what you’ve got.
External expectations refer to what others want and expect from you based on their own set of values and beliefs. Peer pressure is a form of external expectations exerted on us to fulfil standards put in place by society. These expectations, of course, are there to ensure everyone adheres to the proper conduct when engaging with one’s community. External expectations, however, can become toxic when they lack reason or the logical support for everyone to follow. A common expectation that is currently called into question is that of the necessity of returning back to the office. As workplace pandemic safety restrictions are gradually being lifted, many managers expect their employees to fulfil their duties at the office. However, a great deal of people has found balance and productivity working from home, forsaking the frustration and inconveniences of their daily commute to the office. This resistance to go back to the office can be perceived as laziness or unwillingness to cooperate. This can lead to internal conflict and may be a contributing factor for an unprecedented volume of people leaving their jobs in what is now referred to as the Great Resignation.
How do you respond to expectations?
The first step to managing expectations is to understand how you typically respond to them. American author and blogger Gretchen Rubin introduced the “Expectations Matrix” in her bestselling book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better, which allows you to figure out whether you tend to resist or meet expectations. Illustrated below is a framework of the four tendencies in connection to both internal and external expectations.
If you have a tendency to satisfy most expectations, both internal and external, then you have the Upholder tendency. At first glance, you might think that possessing such a tendency is a good thing since you’re theoretically able to make everyone happy, including yourself. The downside is the rigidity to which you hold your standards to others. Do the expectations you hold for yourself necessarily apply to everyone on your team, or is it reasonable only to you? This inflexibility might affect your company culture, causing many internal conflicts and loss of confidence from your team. You need to be aware that not every standard you set for yourself works for everyone. Be open, flexible, and empathetic when setting your expectations with your team to ensure everyone’s needs are accounted for and met.
Sometimes one finds oneself motivated to meet others' expectations but not your own. If so, you’re probably an Obliger. You’re good at meeting deadlines set by others and have no problem prioritizing people’s requests over yours. As a consequence, you tend to neglect your own needs and probably find it difficult to delegate tasks since you’re by nature a people pleaser. You might notice you’re easily burnt out, and sometimes grow resentful of people who expect too much from you. The best way to overcome such issues that are attached to the Obliger tendency is to set boundaries and recognize that you have limits to what you could do and delegate work when required.
If you’re driven by logic and find yourself challenging arbitrary standards that don’t fit your way of thinking, chances are you’re a Questioner. Nothing is true to you if not backed by evidence and hard logic. You have absolute faith in the expectations you set for yourself, and rarely accept others' views if you don’t completely trust them (even industry experts). As a questioner, you constantly want to improve on processes to increase efficiency and reject rules that do not add value. It’s safe to say that questioners do not like to be questioned about their expectations, as they might take it personally. Because of your critical approach, you might come off as uncooperative, self-involved, and a bad team player. A key strategy to avoid seeming this way is to create clarity of the expectations you want yourself and your team to fulfil. Be more collaborative and open to questions (even though you want to fight them!) about your standards. This will foster transparency in your organization and ensure everyone sticks to expectations.
Finally, if you’re one to challenge all expectations, even your own, then you’re most certainly a Rebel. You value freedom over rules and restrictions, and you don’t respond well to direct orders. Like most entrepreneurs, Rebels are innovative thinkers and very driven. Unfortunately, trying to achieve anything successfully without set boundaries and expectations is just not possible. You need to have a clear understanding of your identity and objectives, and set regulations that will allow you to focus on what needs to be achieved.
Recognizing internal and external standards will help you navigate expectations and avoid conflict. More importantly, understanding what motivates you and what challenges you will allow you to determine strategies to meet most hopes and expectations and satisfy almost everyone you work with.