The expectation management

Guest contribution by | 07.02.2019 | Processes & methods | 0 comments

Do you know that or something like that? Together with your customers, you have worked out a detailed specification of the requirements, approved it and designed the product based on it. You are sure that you are acting in the interests of your customers, and yet they do not like the result at all. Somehow – from whatever point in time – your ideas and those of your customers diverged. Both sides are disappointed, a clear case of disillusionment due to (mutual) unfulfilled expectations.

The concept of expectation

What’s that “expectation” anyway? It is an idea of something that has not yet happened and of which the expectant determines individually what should happen – so to speak an anticipation of the future. But we can only influence the future to a limited extent, and the expectations of different individuals are often incompatible. And so expectations are often disappointed. We usually regard expectations as something that others – individuals or organisations – have on us, and there are professional methods of getting to know and “managing” them better. This way of looking at things disregards one essential aspect, namely our own expectations:

  • What do I expect from MYSELF? And how ambivalent are the expectations of the different shares in ME towards MYSELF?
  • What do I think OTHERS expect from ME?

The aim of good expectation management is to perceive and respect the differences in the views of others with as little pre-evaluation as possible and to find an appropriate way of dealing with the most diverse expectations based on this, i.e. to derive appropriate decisions and actions. And so a fundamental principle of truly successful expectation management, namely to develop an attitude, to be able to perceive other people’s expectations or, in other words, to “perceive” them, is often associated with the claim to postpone one’s own expectations – and suddenly they are banished to the unconscious.

Self-knowledge before external perception

In order to recognise the expectations of others, it is important to be receptive to others. To do this, I must first put the expectation back to myself, to know the other and his expectations, or (from a few words) to recognise them. About 80% of our images of reality originate from ourselves (systemists say: “Truth is subjective”). To know the customer’s expectations would be to see his inner images. And my own expectations and my images of reality can overlap my perception of the expectations of others (of me, the project, …). Other risks of ignorance of one’s own expectations are:

  • That I take the subjective perspective of my counterpart and forget myself in the process – the “repressed ego” comes up sometime and mostly unannounced.
  • The missing reference point for understanding the expectations of others: How do mine differ from the images of others and how do my expectations differ from those of others?

Good expectation management is about first hearing the other person as free as possible of evaluation and then understanding (in reference to me). And this requires an attitude in which “I am completely with myself and yet with the other” in a kind of observer role instead of in evaluation. But how can I achieve this?

The prerequisite is to become aware of one’s own expectations (to allow them) in order not to mix them with those of others or to neglect them. Unconsciousness for one’s own expectations prevents listening and understanding and is a situation in which our inner critic feels particularly comfortable. On the other hand, awareness of my own expectations (and that they are just images of a person, namely me) is self-confidence in the literal sense. This has to be combined with an appreciative attitude of my expectations, because they are a part of me – and that also and above all includes my own ambivalences! To know oneself gives security and makes the inner and also the outer critic valuable observers instead of evaluators.

In this way I can develop curiosity for other people’s images that are sometimes strange to me or perhaps – as I believe – “familiar” to me and discover how they differ from mine without losing myself in these images. This allows me to broaden my perspective without questioning my own identity. New images emerge in me. I develop, react to my environment and yet remain “I”. This form of personal (self-)awareness and appreciation, which allows me flexibility in stability, can be described by the term “inner stability”. And out of this “inner stability” I can let go of the expectation that I should know what the customer expects. From the flexibility it also contains, I can react appropriately to his wishes for change – and that also means that I know my limits and communicate them to the customer!

The role of head and body

We are well trained to promote self-confidence through cognitive reflection processes, a kind of “self-interview”. Important and indispensable – and at the same time we all know that in such cognitive reflection processes the inner critic is quite active and that we prefer to push one or the other into the unconscious so that we can (continue to) suffer. But inner stability means that we accept ourselves with all our ambivalences. And so a purely cognitive approach is also not really effective, because the conscious and the unconscious are not sufficiently in contact and our unconscious develops a kind of life of its own. To stay in the picture: “Inner Stability” would just stand on one (cognitive) main pillar, that would not be particularly stable, nor would one make such good progress.

“Inner stability” needs a second – and completely equal – pillar: our physicality. With the support of our body, it is possible to calm down the inner (and also the outer) critic and to be in good contact with the unconscious, which means that we accept physicality as a resource. The body is the basis of perceived security, which is the prerequisite for personal stability (not to be confused with rigidity!) and flexibility (not to be confused with fickle or arbitrarily yielding!).

“Pushing Hands” (partner exercises of Taijiquan) are – cognitively reflected – a suitable method to become aware of one’s often unconscious communication patterns and to connect head and body to a “productive unity” (“Reflected Bodywork”). The four “steps” of the Pushing Hands (hearing power, understanding power, redirecting power, adding power) are comparable on a physical level with good expectation management, both are ultimately about first understanding and then steering appropriately! Both require mindfulness and the knowledge of individual spaces and boundaries – even one’s own. With the idea that intuition (and this is an important aspect in expectation management) is physical experience knowledge, body awareness (in the literal sense: in good interaction with the consciousness of the mind) gets another important role.

In “Reflected Bodywork” you can experience in practice that many of our apparent mind reactions are mirrored in the body – or better: vice versa. Reactions of the body are faster than those of the mind. And so the head often only justifies what has long since been decided in the body. This also applies to dealing with one’s own and others’ expectations.

The expectations for the future

Finally, a look ahead: If we continue to think about our own expectations, we come to a point where accepting our own expectations does not only allow us to deal constructively with other people’s expectations (i.e. it is a basis for “managing expectations”). It also allows us to accept a future beyond our own expectations and plans – a crucial basis for dealing constructively with unexpected events and unmanageable situations that we encounter more and more frequently in our time, which is perceived as increasingly fast-moving and complex.

Astrid Kuhlmey
Astrid Kuhlmey

Computer scientist Astrid Kuhlmey has more than 30 years of experience in project and line management in pharmaceutical IT. She has been working as a systemic consultant for 7 years and advises companies and individuals in necessary change processes. Sustainability as well as social and economic change and development are close to her heart. Together with a colleague, she has developed an approach that promotes competencies to act and decide in situations of uncertainty and complexity.