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Clear Expectations: Your Secret Weapon for Reducing Resentment and Boosting Productivity

Managing our personal and professional lives can often feel overwhelming. One of the most effective ways to navigate this complexity is by setting clear expectations. Clear expectations can be a game-changer in the workplace, at home, or within our social circles. Let’s explore why this is so important and how it can transform your life.


Why Clear Expectations Matter


Quote: Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments

1. Reduces Resentment:

Unclear expectations breed resentment. Neil Strauss said,


We set ourselves and others up for disappointment when we don't explicitly communicate our needs and desires. Imagine expecting your colleague to complete a task by a certain deadline; you expressed the importance of the task and expected them to work quickly but did not give them a deadline. You probably thought they’d work as you do, setting aside other items, knocking out the deliverable, and sending it right over - but not everyone works in the same manner or interprets a conversation the same way. Frustration and resentment build up when the task isn’t completed on time. Clear expectations eliminate this ambiguity, ensuring everyone is on the same page.


2. Enhances Productivity:

Clarity in expectations allows individuals to focus and perform tasks more efficiently. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, teams with clearly defined roles and expectations reported 50% higher job satisfaction and 30% lower stress levels. When people know exactly what is expected of them, they can allocate their time and resources more effectively, increasing productivity.


3. Strengthens Relationships:

Clear expectations are beneficial not only in professional settings but also in personal relationships. Being upfront about your needs and boundaries with your partner, children, or friends fosters trust and mutual respect. This transparency helps build stronger, more resilient relationships.


How to Set Clear Expectations


1. Be Specific:

Vague expectations lead to confusion. To quote one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind”. You can be kind by being specific when communicating your needs. Instead of saying, "I need this done soon," think who, what, when, and where, then create specific guidance, "I appreciate you taking the lead on this. This needs to be completed by Friday at 3 PM. Please upload the file here (have the link available), and send me a Teams message when complete so review can begin”. 


2. Communicate Openly:

Open communication is key to setting clear expectations. Encourage a dialogue where all parties can express their needs and concerns. Use key phrases like “tell me more” and ask clarifying questions to ensure all parties understand and agree to the expectations set.


3. Write It Down:

Documenting expectations is a must. Whether it’s through emails, meeting notes, or shared documents, having a written record ensures that there is no room for misinterpretation.


For example, if you are having a performance conversation, a helpful tip is to ask the person you are conversing with to summarize the discussion via email, including any action items and decisions made. 


4. Follow Up:

Setting expectations is not a “set it and forget it” event. It’s important to follow up regularly and recognize when expectations are met and exceeded. One of my favorite leaders used to say, “Soldiers do what leaders check,” but I liked to reframe it by saying, “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” Following up also creates the space to address any changes or adjustments needed. 


Real-Life Examples


Workplace Scenario:

Clear expectations can significantly improve team performance in a corporate setting. For instance, a project manager who creates a RACI Matrix that clearly outlines each team member's responsibilities/role and expected deliverables can prevent misunderstandings and ensure the project stays on track.


Personal Relationships:

In personal relationships, setting clear expectations can prevent conflicts. For example, if you expect your partner to help with household chores, communicate this explicitly rather than assuming they will understand your needs. This can prevent feelings of neglect and build a more harmonious relationship.


The Research Behind Clear Expectations

Studies have consistently shown the benefits of clear expectations. A Gallup report found that employees with clear expectations are more engaged and perform better. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that clear communication of expectations in relationships leads to higher satisfaction and lower conflict.



During a recent Over This Should podcast recording, therapist Allison Guilbault said, “Our distress lies between the expectations we have and what’s actually happening.” 


The power of clear expectations cannot be overstated. Clear expectations reduce resentment, enhance productivity, and strengthen relationships. You can create a more harmonious and efficient work and home environment by being specific, communicating openly, documenting expectations, and following up regularly.


Remember, clarity is kindness. The next time you feel frustrated or overwhelmed, step back and ask yourself if your expectations are clear. You might be surprised at how much difference it can make.


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