Don’t Let Anyone Should On You

Think about a time when your expectation wasn’t met, and you felt rejected. Say, for example, you applied for a job and were selected for an interview. If the interview went well your expectation was met, and you were pleased with yourself for making a good impression.

If it went badly, you probably experienced what psychologists call an “ego bruise” wherein you berate yourself with “shoulds” such as, “I should have been better prepared. I should have realized I’m not qualified for the job.” My mother was right, I should have studied harder.

Those “should” messages keep coming until you realize the response was not all your fault. The should then shifts to the interview process. They should have stated their expectations more clearly. They should have given you more time to explain. They should give you another chance.

Matching an expectation to the desired response involves a progression of events that unfold in five stages. It is important to realize that situations, behaviors, and feelings will always have an effect on the response either positively in the form of acceptance or negatively in the form of rejection as depicted in the job interview story above.

Putting the five steps into practice empowers you to discuss your feelings about unmet expectations without discomfort. Knowing how each stage unfolds in sequence can help you understand, and if necessary, change the expectation or alter the response, or both. It also helps to understand the “why” behind the “no.”

Expectation. The objective is to declare your intentions in terms of what you’re willing and able to provide or accomplish within the stated time frame and resource allocation. If you need to involve other people in the process, use the same terms to explain your expectations for them.

Situation. Something arises that could jeopardize your expectation or lead to an unsatisfactory response. The options at this point are to accept the conditions and proceed or reassess your expectations and start again.

Behavior. Expectations are based on self-interest. This means that others expect you to know what they prefer and to provide it without them having to express it. If the resulting response matches their expectations, they’ll be supportive and behave positively. If it doesn’t, they’ll become antagonistic and complain that you should have tried harder. Meaning, the unintended consequence was your fault, not theirs.

Feelings. When an expectation is matched with an appropriate response, you feel good about yourself and will be encouraged by what you have accomplished. Conversely, an unmet expectation or inappropriate response leaves you feeling rejected and alone. The sense of belonging and collaboration is replaced by feelings of disconnection and dissatisfaction.

Response. The ultimate goal is to match the response to the expectation. The secondary goal is to respond to those situations where an unmet expectation exists. The final goal is to either rectify unmet expectation or persuade the recipient(s) to accept an alternative response.

Job Interview Strategies

Take this opportunity to apply the expectation-response process to the hypothetical job interview scenario described above and see how much better you think you might do on the next interview if you apply some of the thoughts, reflections, and strategies listed below:

  • The objective of an interview is to reduce the applicant list, so don’t let that happen.
  • Employers hire people they like, so get the interviewer(s) to like you.
  • Know the details of the position and the history of the company.
  • Maintain eye contact with the person(s) asking the questions.
  • Use a recent performance review to explain how your strengths fit this job.
  • Tell the interviewer(s) why you applied and what attracted you to the job.
  • Keep your answers brief. Stop after three sentences and wait for a response before continuing. To avoid being verbose think of the acronym W.A.I.T. “Why Am I Talking.”
  • Tell them about yourself by listing your known attributes, for example:
  • I fit in fast and work well with others.
  • I am known for my initiative in solving problems.
  • If I don’t understand something, I ask for clarification.
  • I have a good attendance record, rarely missed a day at work.
  • I seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  • Avoid clichés like I’m a hard worker – I’m a team player – I’m a quick learner.
  • If you don’t know something, say so, and offer to find the answer and report back later.
  • If asked to list your weakness, pause as if recollecting and say, “I’m not aware of any that would keep me from exceeding your expectations.”
  • If the question of salary comes up, be realistic and don’t low ball your response.

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