Over the past few weeks, I've discovered something quite by accident: nearly every conflict can be traced back to expectations left unsaid. In fact, this rings true both at work and at home.

At Home

My parish priest told me that early on in his marriage he and his wife had to wrestle with unspoken expectations because he wasn't quite the handyman she expected him to be.

In her mind, the husband's job included fixing leaky faucets, squeaky doors, and the like. That never occurred to him, because it wasn't one of his natural strengths.

Regardless, he failed to meet her expectations and she was disappointed—even hurt.

There's nothing wrong with having expectations, even having high ones, at that!

The problem is when expectations are left unspoken, yet people are held to them as if somehow they should know.

At Work

When this happens in the workplace, it's not fun for any person involved.

Every day, people are chastised for falling short of an ideal that may not have been communicated to them at all.

When the standards you're held to are unclear or undefined, any success you achieve is an accident at best.

“The assumption is that people do not care, but reality is that they don't know how.”

The Source

Expectations—spoken or not—arise in many ways. They may come from:

  • Family of origin,
  • Experience,
  • Culture, or
  • Personality.

This is one reason people with similar backgrounds usually get along well.

Their unspoken expectations align, making it easier to interact without offending or disappointing someone else.

To hold people accountable to the standards within your head is to assume that they share your history, mindset, and creed.

But most people don't share the exact same story that makes up you. Even those closest have their own unique perspective, which alters the expectations that they form.

The key, in any case, is to identify unspoken expectations before they strike.

Once you can find them, you can voice them—and work towards clarity there.

“Is your source of disappointment an expectation left unsaid?”

Next time you find yourself disappointed with someone, examine yourself. Is it possible that you're holding them to expectations you've left unsaid?

Question: Can you think of a recent conflict that came from an unspoken expectation?

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