Understanding Expectations

Once we defined a set of requirements, we both knew what we had to accomplish that would meet the other party’s expectations…

I recently spent time with my attorney on personal legal matters, and being somewhat obsessed with attaining objectivity in interpersonal communication in the workplace, I used the occasion to practice using precise terminology in the discussions. My attorney rose to the occasion and responded as someone who appreciated that she didn’t have to talk to me as if I were non-educated with confused vocabulary, and we both enjoyed the conversations.

In the course of working through the legal matters, we were careful to understand “rights” and the “correct” manner to pursue (or protect) those rights. (“Correct” being an objective definition.) My attorney appreciated that I did not confuse right with correct.

Going into our discussions, we each had expectations, which of course as thoughts, reside between each individual’s ears, and therefore expectations being thoughts in one’s mind can never be identical to those in another individual’s mind. Nor can one understand another’s thoughts; only what is communicated, and thoughts are not communicated (except by Martians).

Understanding that as individuals, we can never have the same thoughts, and therefore we can never have the same expectations, and cannot communicate thoughts, we found common understanding by translating our separate internal expectations into common external set of requirements; requirements being those objective statements that reside outside an individual’s mind; objective statements that may form the basis of contracts.

Of course, each of us evaluated the set of stated/written requirements against our individual internal expectations to ensure that the requirements met our individual “expectations.” (The fact that one cannot read the thoughts of another necessitated that each individual perform this evaluation for himself or herself.)

Once we defined a set of requirements, we both knew what we had to accomplish that would meet the other party’s expectations (without having direct access to the other party’s expectations.) Further, because we documented the requirements, we had an objective record defining what was to be accomplished. This subsequently became our plan of action.

Had we foregone establishing requirements, there is no doubt that we would have repeatedly missed in attempting to understand expectations, subsequently and repeatedly corrected our actions, and never reached a common understanding of what was to be accomplished; and would always have misunderstandings.

Expectations—thoughts in our heads—can only be private, as should be. Requirements are those objective accomplishments we agree to meet.

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