Expectations – What Expectations?

J:“I’ve given up all expectations”

M: “OK”

J: “OK? OK? Is that all you have to say? I thought you’d be a little more excited than that!!”

We all have expectations

We all have expectations,  some stated, some unstated and taken for granted.

Some of the biggest problems in relationships, causing us stress both at work and in our personal lives, are caused by expectations that are not clearly communicated.

What we can do to avoid these problems, therefore, is to put all our cards on the table, meaning that we state very clearly and explicitly what our expectations are, and we ask others to do the same.

It is also important not to take anything for granted, especially what we think is obvious. This is because what may seem obvious to one person may not be at all obvious to another.

Let us take the example of a receptionist who came to a job interview with glowing references from her previous employer, who described her as polite, friendly and efficient.

What was not mentioned was the fact that in her previous job she was required to spend one or two minutes with each caller, whereas her new job was in a very busy agency where she needed to spend no more than a few seconds on each call.

She got the job and unfortunately soon found, to everyone’s disappointment, that she was unable to cope with her new environment.

What happened here was that both the employer and the job applicant had expectations which they did not communicate.

The employer expected the applicant to know that the job required her to deal speedily with calls, and the applicant expected her new job to be similar to her previous one.

Had either party stated clearly what their expectations were, a great deal of frustration, disappointment and stress could have been avoided.

Take nothing for granted

The lesson here is – take nothing for granted, do not assume anything is obvious, state all your expectations clearly and ask others to do the same.

What about expectations between practitioners and clients? For example, some psychotherapy sessions last a full hour, others last 50 minutes – in fact some psychiatrists talk of their 50-minute hour. If the length of the session is not clearly communicated to the client, confusion, disappointment and resentment can result!

What are your expectations?

What are your expectations of your clients? Do you communicate these clearly at the outset?

What happens, for example, if your client is delayed through no fault of their own – eg a cancelled train or road accident? Do you still give them their full allotted session time, or do you finish at the agreed time anyway?

What are your expectations of your practitioner? What if the practitioner is delayed – again through no fault of their own?

What do you do, as a practitioner, if you are delayed? What are your expectations of yourself and your clients under the circumstances?

It is important to examine our assumptions and have clear agreements about what we expect from our clients/customers, employees/employers, colleagues, partners,friends, family -in fact from all our relationships, so that we know where we stand with each other. Otherwise confusion and bad feelings can result.

Here’s an exercise for you:

Take a few minutes to write down some things you expect everyone to know – things that you assume are obvious and that you do not need to tell other people. Then ask some of your colleagues, clients,or your family or friends – to do the same. Then compare lists. If you’ve never done this before, I think you will be surprised !

Once you stop taking things for granted and get into the habit of communicating clearly even what you think is obvious, your relationships will improve and your stress levels will drop.

As you will be spending less time resolving conflicts, you will have more time and energy for work and play. You will perform better and have more fun!

BodyLanguage and Voice Tone

Expectations are also constantly being communicated through bodylanguage and tone of voice, and most of us are not conscious of the interaction that is taking place on this level.

This is where the European and American schools of somatic psychotherapy, which focus deeply on these aspects of our behaviour and communication, can be especially helpful.

Our facial expression, bodily movements and tone of voice constitute 60% to 90% of the messages we communicate.  Is it not exciting to know that we can become more aware of these aspects of our relationships?

Even the way we breathe communicates our feelings and expectations.

Try this exercise:(see note below):

(Please note: do not attempt this exercise if you suffer from any medical or psychological condition that can be adversely affected by slight variations in your breathing. If in any doubt at all consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner)

Breathe in and hold your breath for a few seconds. Notice what happens to your facial expression, and to your chest and shoulders as you do this. Notice also how you feel, physically and emotionally.

Now breathe out and hold your breath for a few seconds – notice what happens then to your feelings, your facial expression, your chest and shoulders.

Breathe a little faster, breathe a bit slower, breathe a little more deeply or shallowly. Notice how even these small variations convey messages and expectations and therefore influence your relationships and the outcomes of your personal, professional and social interactions.

Do this exercise with a partner – give each other feedback as to how you respond to your own and your partner’s changes in breathing and bodily expression.

The language of the body forms 60% – 90% of our communication, yet how much time is devoted to this in our educational system, both in schools and professional training courses? Does it not come as a bit of a surprise that so little conscious attention is devoted to understanding what really goes on between us?

How do you interpret Body Language?

It is important to understand that rigid interpretations claiming to give one insights into bodylanguage can be superficial and may be misleading. Understanding bodylanguage is an in-depth process that requires time and experience.

The predominant cultural tendency to apply standardised formulae and take short-cuts often misses the point and the richness of life’s experiences, focusing so much on the end result that the richness of the journey and the learning opportunities it provides are lost.

It is also important to note that everything exists in relationship, and that just as the context can determine the meaning of a word or phrase, the context also determines the meaning of bodily expression.

Some people interpret certain gestures in fixed ways, with no reference to the context at all.

Folded arms, for example, are often interpreted as meaning that the person is closed off or defensive, whereas in fact this is only one of many possible messages that may be communicated by this.

Sometimes the opposite may be true. By folding their arms a person may feel safe enough to open on a deeper and more meaningful level. This would be sadly missed by this misinterpretation.

No wonder so many people in our culture have a deep longing to be seen and understood!

What do you expect from yourself?

When we expect too much of ourselves, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. By setting our expectations too low, however, we fail to challenge ourselves and do not reach our true potential. So taking time to reflect upon what it is that we expect of ourselves in all areas of our lives, is time well spent.

My understanding is that we perform best and are happiest when we set our sights high, creating a vision of the life we choose to have without considering whether or not this is realistic or possible.

Whilst holding this vision we take one step at a time, not really knowing what to expect.

It seems contradictory – and it is a paradox – to aim for the stars whilst letting go of expectations, but in my experience this creates the ideal conditions for a successful and fulfilling life.


Donald currently resides in Sydney where he sees clients for therapy, practitioner supervision and coaching.

Donald can be contacted on 02 9413 9794 or 0412 178 234