On Perceptions and Expectations: Part 2

How do you deal with unmet, unspoken expectations?

As previously posted, we know that we operate with unspoken expectations.  Typically they go unspoken for a while until someone has the courage to confront.  Unfortunately, at that point the opportunity for dialogue is passed and this no longer a conversation but it’s a confrontation.  How do you handle this as a leader?  Here’s the practice that I use when I realize someone is confronting me with an unmet but unspoken expectation.

  1. Genuinely apologize – you failed to do your job in their eyes. Regardless of your intention, you’ve let someone down.
  2. Don’t go to immediate defense. Covey writes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  At this point, defending your motives just sound like excuses and reinforces that the topic at hand wasn’t a priority for you.
  3. Clarify what you’re hearing to be the expectation
  4. Play out a possible scenario, “If I see this again, and did this . . . will this help/serve you?”
  5. Thank them for feedback – reinforce your own need for growth and feedback.
  6. Emphasize the importance of the relationship and your care for them.
  7. Speak to your leadership team about it – confirm that this is an expectation and how they can help you identify unmet unspoken There’s nothing worse than being held accountable for something you didn’t know you were being asked to do.

Live and lead with transparency with your leadership team to help them understand that you’re wanting to receive feedback, address areas of growth, but also ensure that they are aware of what you’re being asked to do. A healthy leadership team will help you establish boundaries and protect you from unspoken expectations.

A great resource for reference is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and team.  You can get it here.

On Perceptions and Expectations: Part 1

As a church leader, I had a sign posted on my bulletin where I could see it every day (as well as anyone who entered my office!).  It said:

Perception is not reality.  Test your perception and accurately define reality

Identifying, naming, and managing perceptions is of significant importance.  Bruce Gordon, an experienced Canadian leader and consultant, states: “80% of our expectations are assumed and go unspoken.”  Perhaps other than in marriage, there is no other setting where this may be truer than in a small church setting.

Dealing with unspoken expectations:

The danger of unspoken expectations is that you have no idea if you’re not meeting them.  It’s highly possible that if there is an unspoken expectation, a person or group of people still expect you to be aware of the need.  They believe you are as aware of the fact you’re not meeting the need as they are in their mind, and you likely won’t find out until someone has enough courage to speak up.  At which point, a rather small expectation has now become a significant issue due to delay in attention.

Myth:  We are able to see the world as they see the world.

Truth:  We do not see the world the way it is, we see the world the way we are.

Clarifying expectations allows us to understand the world from a different perspective. Key: there is a difference between ‘seeing the world’ from another perspective and understanding the world from another perspective.  We will be hard pressed to truly ‘see it’, but with hard work and dialogue, it’s possible to understand it.

Identifying unspoken expectations:

  • Excluding the Big Five (preaching, teaching, visitation, funerals, and weddings) . . . write three things you expect of your leader/pastor.

As I did this with my leadership team, the result was everything from community involvement/outreach to training up leaders to overseeing the kid’s ministry.  If done intentionally, this exercise could prove helpful in generating a written job description that include the Big Five.