Take out a sheet of paper and write down the responses to this question:
What expectations do you have of your spouse or significant other?
Don’t read any further until you’ve written at least 5 expectations.
Now review your list. My guess is some variation of the following made it onto your list:
Be trustworthy, be responsible, be caring, be respectful, be helpful around the house, be a good mother/father, be a good friend, be committed, be a good communicator, etc.
All of these are very normal and reasonable expectations. Now read your list out loud to yourself, and ask yourself this question – Is it crystal clear what your spouse or significant other must do in order to meet your expectations? If we use the list I shared above (be trustworthy, be responsible, etc), the answer is no. None of those identify what someone must do or say in order to meet the expectation. Need another example? All parents will have fond memories of this drama filled experience: How many of you asked your child to clean his/her room and when they finished, it didn’t meet your expectations? Almost all parents raise their hands. You had a picture in your head of what a clean room looked like yet your child apparently had a very different picture. What happened next is both predictable and inevitable – the parent and the child were upset having to do the work all over again.
This is a perfect example of the 3rd major source of conflict and destroyer of trust. Most of the time, we communicate our expectations in very vague terms (be respectful, be trustworthy, clean your room, etc), and because vague terms are open to interpretation, there will be differences in what is perceived to be normal (see judgments and perceptions).
When communicating expectations, particularly important expectations, it is critical they be stated in clear and specific terms. The easiest way to ensure they are clear and specific is to ask yourself this question – can you take a picture of what someone would be doing OR record what someone would be saying in order to meet your expectation? If the answer is no, it is not clear or specific, and it will be open to interpretation. It’s really that simple. Yet as simple as this may be, very few people have ever been taught to communicate using clear and specific terms, and as a result, it takes some practice to stop using vague terms. In fact, you don’t have to stop using vague terms; you just need to add a little extra to them. For example, if you expect someone to be trustworthy, then always state what the person will be seen doing or heard saying to meet that expectation. By adding just that little extra clarity to expectations that are important to you, you will immediately and significantly improve your communication effectiveness, reduce conflict, and enhance trust. In our training programs, we use a proven model that will enable you to increase your effectiveness in communicating expectations that result in enhancing trust and collaboration.
There are two other ways you create conflict and destroy trust. Click on the links below to read those articles to begin thinking your way 2 success right now: