Dropping Expectations

We tend to start any inter­ac­tion with our fel­low co-humans based on cer­tain expec­ta­tions. This is true espe­cial­ly for long-term pri­vate rela­tion­ships as well as for busi­ness envi­ron­ments. What would hap­pen if we dropped our expec­ta­tions and inter­act­ed with­out any Inter­pre­ta­tion of our coun­ter­part’s reactions?

Start­ing from my per­son­al expe­ri­ences, I sug­gest to skip any spe­cif­ic expec­ta­tion regard­ing the reac­tion of your con­ver­sa­tion­al part­ner for a week or so, be it in pri­vate or in busi­ness envi­ron­ments. Here’s the result of my own anec­do­tal experiment:

Every time we plan a meet­ing with a (poten­tial) busi­ness part­ner or client, we arrange every­thing pret­ty care­ful­ly in advance. We cre­ate a pre­sen­ta­tion, we have a test­ed sto­ry­line which should be open to scruti­ny. We have put our­selves in the oth­er’s shoes and have deter­mined where she “per­ceives pain”. One very pos­i­tive effect of this prepa­ra­tion is that we our­selves think every­thing through once again. Quite often, we have an even bet­ter under­stand­ing of our own story after these train­ing sessions.

Your Expec­ta­tions Won‘t Be Matched

And yes, when it comes to D‑day, an impor­tant pre­sen­ta­tion or pitch, there is this strange feel­ing after­ward: the meet­ing took a very dif­fer­ent course than we expect­ed. Even if it was con­sid­ered a suc­cess, e.g. we won the pitch or agreed on the favored coöper­a­tion, some­thing dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion hap­pened which changed our plan and made major parts of our prepa­ra­tion useless.

Real­i­ty Won’t Adapt To Our Plans

Let’s assume that 50% of the above-mentioned prepa­ra­tion is well invest­ed since it adds to our own under­stand­ing of things. In this case, the other 50% is wast­ed time, since real­i­ty never adapts to our plan and we have to impro­vise any­way. Unless we don’t assume that we need to be pre­pared in order to be able to impro­vise, we should skip the “how-will-the-conversation-run” part altogether.

Last week, I did exact­ly that: I did not plan my busi­ness meet­ing min­utes (besides being pre­pared and know­ing my stuff) and dropped my respec­tive expec­ta­tions on everybody.

What hap­pened? Bot­tom line: noth­ing hap­pened. All meet­ings went in the same way as before, with one dif­fer­ence: I was­n’t sur­prised at any moment. There was no expec­ta­tion from my side which could turn out un-matched or over-accomplished. You might argue that I can’t know whether expec­ta­tions haven’t been met unless I had some. Right — my indi­ca­tor for that is the reac­tions of my busi­ness part­ners after I told them about the meet­ings and their out­comes. They don’t active­ly par­tic­i­pate in my exper­i­ment and that enables me to cre­ate an A/B test sit­u­a­tion: they unknow­ing­ly act as my con­trol group (hope­ful­ly they don’t mind if they read this).

Thanks to my con­trol group I know what “we” expect­ed and how I would have been sur­prised in nor­mal circumstances.

In my pri­vate envi­ron­ment I don’t have this kind of con­trol group and it’s much more dif­fi­cult to drop expec­ta­tions. I won’t elab­o­rate on details but the results seem to be the same as in busi­ness: not expect­ing a cer­tain order of events or behav­ior if my con­ver­sa­tion­al part­ner makes con­ver­sa­tions eas­i­er, lighter, and more open. No dis­ap­point­ments here.

Learn­ing From A Week Of Dropped Expectations

In con­ver­sa­tions with friends and fam­i­ly it real­ly “makes the dif­fer­ence”: since the qual­i­ty of con­ver­sa­tions and inter­ac­tions have improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly, I’ll stick to the new “rule” and will try yo drop all expec­ta­tions. To be clear — this will be a process with recur­rent slips. I’m will­ing to try it as often as pos­si­ble until not hav­ing expec­ta­tions will become a habit.

In my busi­ness envi­ron­ment I’ll try to sep­a­rate my nec­es­sary prepa­ra­tion of meet­ings and con­ver­sa­tions from any plan­ning and antic­i­pa­tion of my coun­ter­part’s reac­tions. If I suc­ceed in doing so, I’ll opti­mize my time spent and my well-being. Drop­ping expec­ta­tions could be one of the most effi­cient tech­niques of lifestyle opti­miza­tion with­out any neg­a­tive side effects.

I would love to hear about your expe­ri­ences: have you already tried drop­ping your expec­ta­tions or don’t you have any at all?

3 Replies to “Dropping Expectations”

  1. J. says:

    Expec­ta­tions aris­es out of our atti­tudes and ideas. They are based on our expe­ri­ences, both: good and bad. There are count­less sit­u­a­tions in which they deter­mine our behav­ior and per­cep­tion. Often they are close­ly relat­ed to our oppo­nent and his behav­ior. Inter­ac­tion with peo­ple may be food and enemy of our expectations.
    A happy and well-balanced per­son has basi­cal­ly lower expectations.
    But: are expec­ta­tions per se a bad thing? Are they our stum­bling blocks or are they our mir­ror in which we recog­nise our fears and wish­es? Do they some­times help us to recog­nise what is impor­tant to us?
    Noth­ing to expect­ed is in most cases bet­ter and often the way with the most beau­ti­ful surprises.
    But a life with­out expec­ta­tions? How would it look like if we have no expec­ta­tions for the behav­ior of our coun­ter­parts? What would be our val­ues​and man­ners? Any­way, it seems to be a ques­tion of the same eye level.

  2. J. wrote
    “But a life with­out expec­ta­tions? How would it look like if we have no expec­ta­tions for the behav­ior of our coun­ter­parts? What would be our val­ues​and manners? ”
    I’ve tried to answer these ques­tions with my exper­i­ment. I’m not try­ing to find answers on a the­o­ret­i­cal level but more in a prac­ti­cal sense. For me it works: I take it as it comes. No expec­ta­tions, or: the less, the better.

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