I am trying to find a contractor for something, and it has really made me realize how important setting expectations is. When someone tells me I can expect something in a week – I expect it in a week. If that person then does not get back to me for 2 weeks, or, heaven forbid, not at all, I get annoyed. I understand that things don’t always go as planned; I understand that sometimes things come up. What I don’t understand is someone not getting back to me to let me know the time frame has changed, or that a decision has been made to not bid on my job. And what I REALLY do not understand is the thinking that it’s just the way it is – contractors are like that.

Setting expectations is not important just for your customers. It is important for pretty much all the people in your life. When my son was little, he did not do transitions well, and getting him to stop one thing and start another was tough until I figured out that I just needed to set some expectations for him. So I started to be sure to let him know in advance what was next and how much time he had left. When I remembered to let him know we were leaving in 20 minutes, and then again in 10 minutes, etc., his expectations were set and he didn’t have as hard a time moving on to the next thing. When a friend says he will call in about a week, I do not sit around wondering why he has not called in 2 days. When I let my co-worker know that I will have a report done in 3 hours, she does not expect it in 1 hour.

Of course, you must not only set expectations, you must also follow through on them. If you say you will have something for your co-worker in 3 hours, then you should have it then. And if something else has come up so that you are not able to have it done, it is important to let your co-worker know what is going on. If you do not follow through, people will stop believing you.

I know it is tempting to promise things you can’t deliver; I know that it is hard to tell people that you can’t complete something in the time they want it. And it is so much kinder to let people know the truth up front, so that they don’t rely on something that isn’t likely to happen.

It really does seem to be true about so many things: under-promise and over-deliver.

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