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I Totally Didn’t Agree to That: Managing Expectations

What Have I Done?

It was after 8 on a Wednesday evening, and I’d finally left the office, but had to take my work home. I had a deadline in the next two days that I absolutely could not miss, and I was about 40% done with my project. I was also leaving on an international trip the next morning. Needless to say, I was starting to freak out. A lot.

I had been handed this project at what I felt was the last minute. No one had told me that this was going to be my responsibility, and I only found out because I finally worked up the nerve to just ask who was going to be doing it.

Unfortunately I asked too late, and now I was staring into the face of my future demise, looking at my laptop screen through tears, wondering where I had gone wrong. How was I going to get this done while traveling? What if I couldn’t figure this out? What if I did it wrong and let everyone down?

It was a horrible night. I spent about as much time panicking as I did actually working, and then was so worried about it that I couldn’t even sleep.

If you’ve ever had a situation like this, you know how terrible it can be. I promised myself I would never go through something like that again, and was determined to figure out what I’d done wrong and how I could fix it. I effectively ruined several days of my own life in constant stress, anxiety, and fear.

What I realized, as I thought more about it, was that I wasn’t doing a very good job of communicating with my boss. I had made a lot of mistakes that could’ve saved me all this trouble. And what I know now is that I needed to improve my skills of Expectation Management.

So, I want to save you from the same self-inflicted trauma with these tips:

Don’t Make Assumptions

This was my first huge mistake in managing expecations. How many times has this gone through your mind: No one told me to do this, so obviously it’s not my responsibility, right? Or how about: It’s not in my job description so I don’t think I need to do this. While these are both great observations, you’re setting yourself up for failure, just like I did.

Don’t assume that since no one has asked you to do it, or it’s not in your job description, or you’ve never done this particular thing before, that you are automatically not responsible for it. In my case, I assumed I didn’t have to do the project because I had no idea how to do it, no one had asked me, and it wasn’t in my job description, so I assumed I wasn’t really expected or qualified to take care of it.

Ask for Clarification

And this is where I made the first good choice, after too much avoidance. I just asked, “Who is going to be doing this?” At which point (to my horror) it was made clear that I was supposed to do it. Now, if I’d asked a few weeks before, when I’d first thought of it, I would have saved myself a lot of anxiety because I would’ve had extra weeks to work on the project.

In my case, this was an annual project, so I knew that it was coming up, but didn’t know who was going to be responsible for it. But even if you are new to your role or your company, make sure that you ask questions and get clarification as to what major things you’ll be responsible for so that you can plan for them. Are their annual projects that you’ll be responsible for and when are they do? Are there reports that people expect you to send and when do they expect them? Is there any work that you’ve forgotten to ask about that your boss might have forgotten to mention?

If you don’t have a clear and definite idea of what you’ll be responsible for, you can’t expect to do a good job of completing your work. So make sure to always ask for clarification on what is expected of you in your role, and also what’s expected from a certain project you may be working on.

Be Realistic

I knew next to nothing about the project I was managing, other than the expected outcome. I had no idea how to actually manage the project. I’d never managed this before, and had only done data input for these annual projects. And here I was trying to run it.

I should have been more realistic with what I could do in the timeframe I had inadvertently given myself. Knowing that I hadn’t done this project before, and I was on limited time, could I achieve the expected outcome?

If I could, then I really needed to get serious about figuring out how I was going to do it. If I couldn’t do it, then I would also need to be honest about that, tell my boss, and offer an alternative solution.

Use Your Resources

Since I was slowly, or not so slowly, descending in to full on panic mode, I did a pretty good job of asking for help. I couldn’t ask my boss because we were in different countries and ran our projects completely differently, but I did have coworkers in other locations that I could reach out to.

I called up my previous boss and told her I was probably going to have a breakdown and oh my god please help me I’m totally freaking out. She laughed and said she’d answer any questions I had. Because she’s amazing like that.

Identifying and reaching out to the people that can help you is one of the biggest parts of expectation management because you also have to manage your own expectations of yourself. Admitting that you don’t know how to do something is hard; admitting that you’re going to have to ask for help can be even harder.

Check-in Frequently

The last thing I should have done was check in with my boss more. Giving regular updates on progress, asking for more clarification as you reach new obstacles along the way, and making sure that you’re aware of any updates on her end is important so that you’re both on the same page.

It also gives you a chance to update them on your timeline. If everything is really going to hell, at least you will know and can tell your boss, coworker, or whoever is involved that you’re either going to need more time or more help. Blindsiding someone the day before you’ve got to send something in is not a good time to let them know you’re off track because it’s both disrespectful and unprofessional.

Even if you can fix the problem and get it back on track, let people know honestly where you are. There’s no shame in making mistakes, but there’s a lot of added frustration and embarrassment in trying to cover one up.

I’m So Glad That’s Over

Even with the travel, and working frantically on airport wifi (I don’t recommend this for important deadlines), I was able to get everything finished and uploaded on time. I was so proud of myself when I hit the send button and shut my laptop.

I also momentarily considered shattering it on the floor out of frustration (Dear IT Department: I have no idea what happened to it. It just, like, spontaneously combusted or something.).

I did it, and I was ultimately the wiser for it, but I also put myself through a lot of unnecessary stress to get there. If I had just communicated a little better, and not felt self-conscious, I would’ve saved myself a whole lot of trouble.

Just ask the right questions, have the right conversations and don’t end up in a hysteric fit crying over your laptop like I did.

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