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How Skipping the Expectation Talk is Ruining Your Life

Are you having "The Expectation Talk"?

Last week, I shared the 5 Sins that Non HR Managers commit when dealing with employees. Today, let's talk about the one area that can significantly impact your level of job stress and your outcomes: Expectation Setting.

Wait- if you aren't in a leadership position, don't exit out of this article yet. This is just as much for individual contributors as it is for anyone else. If you are a manager, you may be saying: "Oh, I set expectations with my people. They know what to do." Then you discover somewhere down the line that the understanding was fuzzy and unclear. If you are an individual contributor, you might retort: "Um, I don't remember that talk" or "I got handed a 150 page book on what my job was". You may have already felt defeated so you just tried to figure it out on your own and missed the mark. In either case, you decided that the expectation talk was overrated and you would just figure it out as you go. This is a mistake that is ruining your life no matter who you are.

Are You Guilty of the Top 2 HR Sins?

Let's start with the first two HR Sins I mentioned last week:

1. Thou hast not discussed performance issues or been clear on expectations.

I love how Gallup identifies the 12 things that drive employee engagement, and "I know what is expected of me at work" is one of the foundational elements. Based on their research, roughly half of all employees surveyed know what is expected of them, and less than 40% have had a meaningful and clear conversation about expectations with their leader.

I don't have the research figures on how many leaders meet with their employees on a monthly or quarterly basis, but based on my experience in the field, the numbers are low. Most leaders have "the talk" at annual review time, which can be awkward with weird surprises happening for the employee.

2. Thou hast not documented performance issues and discussions.

The other place of vulnerability where expectation setting is concerned involves documentation. This is really the number 1 mistake that leaders make when they don't capture dates, notes, and agreements. Contrary to popular belief in the moment, we lose track of details over time because we are inundated with new data everyday.

When performance issues arise, it becomes a he said/she said argument that can get nasty.

How is My Life Being Ruined?

Whether you are the leader or the employee, you face the same truth. The lack of transparent and clear expectation dialogue can ruin your life by:

  • Inviting re-work: When you don't know what to do, you tend to make mistakes because you end up guessing. It's like gambling. You may have occasional wins, but all it takes is one loss to wipe out everything you've accomplished.

  • Delaying progress on timelines: Misunderstandings can prompt extra meetings to get clarity. The result is that projects and actions get behind. When nobody knows what's going on, they want to find out and tend to stop the press until they understand the purpose and deliverables.

  • Damaging relationships: Lack of communication leads people to come to conclusions. They create perceptions around what is going on, and these perceptions create a new reality that may be way off base. When expectations are not clear or known and the whole work world falls apart, people get angry. Someone has to be blamed and the whole scenario ends up in bad feelings, conflict, and bitterness.

  • Costing big bucks: All of the above equals lost money for the company. Rework costs. Delays cost. Damaged Relationships cost. Lack of expectations and misunderstandings can also end up in court. This can also hurt reputations of managers, employees, and the credibility of the company.

What Should You Do Now?

The best thing you can do is to start scheduling regular and ongoing expectation discussions to make sure everyone is on the same page. What this DOESN'T mean is that you tell the other person what to do and end with, "Got it?"

This is a dialogue and requires you to practice active listening. It also helps to have the other person summarize the conversation and expectations to ensure skewed perceptions aren't playing into the situation.

It's doesn't have to all fall on the manager's shoulders. You have the right as an employee to proactively seek this conversation to get clear.

Need some do-it-yourself guidance? Download this Complimentary Expectation Setting Conversation Template

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Angela Nuttle is an author, speaker, talent remodeler™, and consultant in talent and organizational development. As founder of The School of Executive Presence, she teaches business people how to show up with executive presence. She also works directly with CEOS, Business Leaders, and HR Teams to develop people, potential, and processes that create productive and profitable business environments. To learn more about her experience with Fortune 500 companies and relevant solutions, visit or

To learn more about her organization, visit

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