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 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 listened to her.

Those “should” messages keep coming until you realize the response was not 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.

Putting the five steps into practice empowers you to express and discuss your feelings about unmet expectations without discomfort or disrespect. Knowing how each stage unfolds in sequence as shown in the model below 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 unexpected 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.

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