Have you ever found yourself really disappointed and frustrated that someone hasn’t done something you expected them to do? I have. In fact, I find myself there all too frequently with myself, my kids, and my partner. Then, the other day I heard someone talking about expectations vs agreements and how when you have expectations of someone (including yourself), you often find yourself disappointed.
How do your expectations show up?
Having expectations of ourselves isn’t all bad. Expectations can be positive or negative. Positive expectations can motivate us to achieve our goals and live our best lives. They can also help us to build strong relationships with others. For example, if we expect ourselves to be kind and compassionate, we are more likely to behave in those ways. If you expect to do well on a test, you are more likely to study hard and perform well.
However, negative expectations can hold us back from achieving our goals and living our best lives. They can also lead to conflict and resentment in our relationships. For example, if we expect ourselves to fail, we are more likely to give up when things get tough. If we expect our friends and family to let us down, we are more likely to push them away.
We also have expectations of others. These expectations are often about their behaviour, their actions, or their words. They are often judgemental in nature. Of course, we cannot control other people; we can only control ourselves (and our expectations!)
What if instead of judgy expectations, we created agreements? Agreements are more specific than expectations. They are based on what we have mutually agreed to do or be. For example, if you agree to meet a friend for coffee at 10 am, you are more likely to show up on time because you have made a commitment to the other person.
The difference between expectations and agreements
Let’s back up a minute and talk about what the difference is between expectations and agreements. Expectations are preconceived ideas of how things should be. They are often based on our past experiences, our beliefs, and our values. Agreements are mutual understandings or commitments that are made between two or more people. They are based on open communication, trust, and respect.
In the act of defining these, I can see clearly why I feel disappointed when I make an expectation of someone (or myself) rather than creating an agreement. So often I am making up a story or comparing their process to mine.
In digging a little deeper I also discovered some additional key differences between expectations and agreements:
- Expectations are often unspoken, while agreements are usually explicit. When we have expectations, we don't always communicate them to the other person and are often what we think someone should do or be. This can lead to misunderstandings and disappointment. Agreements, on the other hand, are made explicit. This means that both parties know what is expected of them and can hold each other accountable.
- Expectations can be unrealistic, often based on our hopes and dreams and set too high. While agreements are more realistic - based on what is possible and achievable and on what both parties are willing to do (boundaries anyone?!)
- When we have expectations, they can be one-sided and we often focus on what we want from the other person. This can lead to resentment and anger. Agreements, on the other hand, are usually mutual. This means that both parties are making promises and commitments to each other.
Expectations are based on perfection
I believe that many of these expectations come from a place of perfection and people-pleasing. We are worried about creating an agreement because we don’t know how it will go. Or we are holding someone to a different standard to someone else (or ourselves). Having unrealistic expectations of ourselves or of others can lead to a lot of stress and unhappiness. If we are constantly striving for perfection, we will never be satisfied. And if we expect others to be perfect, we will be constantly disappointed.
The antidote to this behaviour is kindness and focusing on progress, not perfection - for us and everyone else. As we seek others’ perspectives we can understand why they behave the way they do. As we work on ourselves, we understand why we do what we do in the way that we do it. We understand where our expectations come from. We learn to forgive and even embrace failures and mistakes.
When we have realistic expectations, we are less likely to be disappointed. As we are kind to ourselves, we are more likely to be happy. When we don't control others, we are less likely to be frustrated. As we are understanding of others, we are more likely to have positive relationships.
How to Manage Expectations and Create Agreements
When we shift from the ideas and stories of expectation to the power of creating strong agreements, we can live a happier, more fulfilling life. Here are my top tips:
Be clear and specific
If you want someone to do something, make sure you communicate with them clearly. This will help to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment. The more specific you are, the less likely you are to end up disappointed due to assumptions about what everyone wants/knows. It also allows people to set and hold their boundaries on what is or isn’t achievable.
Be willing to negotiate and/or compromise
If your expectations are unrealistic, be willing to negotiate with the other person. This will help to create an agreement that is mutually beneficial. It’s also important here to remember that things don’t always go according to plan. Add some flexibility to your agreement or create a new agreement when things change.
Focus on progress not perfection
Everyone is different and has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect. Be willing to listen to the other person's perspective and make adjustments as needed and be respectful of their point of view (even if you disagree). It's important to focus on your own progress, happiness, and well-being AND celebrate your successes!
If you find that you have high expectations of others, here are some things you can do to reframe your mindset:
- Focus on the positive qualities of others
- Practise gratitude for what others do for you
- Remember that everyone is human and makes mistakes
- Learn to let go of control
Creating agreements with ourselves and others can help us to live happier and more fulfilling lives. By setting realistic goals, accepting that everyone makes mistakes, and forgiving ourselves and others, we can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve our relationships.