Meeting expectations – why is it so difficult?

How often do you feel disappointed and tired because of misunderstandings and expectations not being met? Sometimes it feels as if the other party is not even talking the same language and I wonder how difficult it can be to get what I am asking for? I often reflect on the reason for this; is it that we don’t discuss expectations often enough, that we are not clear in our communication when we do express them, or is it that we do understand the expectations but we are not willing to put the effort needed to meet them? Apparently there can be several reasons but what is more important is to overcome these barriers to get your expectations met as well as living up to others’.

I have a colleague at work who is a real visionary. He is very good at “complex thinking” if such a term exists, or maybe we can call it “philosophizing”. The problem is that hardly anyone understands him once he kicks off on his thinking journey in wonderland. I started a new position in my company almost a month ago and when I first talked to him, I was convinced that I had lost a big percentage of my brain cells since I left Sweden to work abroad. Luckily it was confirmed within a couple of weeks that I am not the only one lost in these self-confidence destructing conversations. It happens to be that I and this visionary person are supposed to work a lot together and I couldn’t in my wildest imagination understand how to get something concrete out of this collaboration. As always in these kinds of frustrating situations, you are pushed to find a strategy for dealing with it. I am currently embracing the tactic of asking him closed questions where the only option he has is to respond yes or no. Also, I try to rephrase in writing what he says so that I can suggest concrete actions in the end of the conversation. The real key here is asking questions – I would never be able to walk away from our meetings with any clarity of the project or the next step if I didn’t ask many clarifying questions. It’s not a unique and creative strategy, but it really works.

To take another example: I attended a two-day sales course earlier this week in which we discussed the buying cycle intensively, explaining the different stages that the customer passes through before he/she makes the final buying decision. A successful sales person needs to identify throughout the engagement in which phase the customer is and help him/her transit to the next phase by emphasizing the need for a change, minimizing the hurdles and mitigating the risks along the way and showing the bright end-result on the other side. In this engagement, meeting expectations is crucial for a successful outcome. If you have a good relationship with your current or potential customer, you will hopefully be able to have many open and relevant discussions where you will make sure to ask the right questions to ensure that you are on the right track. When it comes to meeting expectations I believe no tool is more efficient than asking questions. More specifically, you need to ask the right questions to the right person at the right moment. One of the participants in the course asked: how will I know if my customer wants any support in pushing for a change within his organization? I’m not sure if it was my feminine instinct (some would probably call it “naïve”) but I couldn’t hold myself from replying on behalf of the teacher; why don’t you just ask him? I fully understand that you wouldn’t look professional if you ask about everything and of course you are sometimes expected to know the basics without asking – it’s really a matter of common sense – but I do think that we underestimate the power of asking questions. Not only does this make your work more relevant by giving you a continuous confirmation that you are on the right track or that you need to change it (hopefully early enough) but it will also create a better relationship between you and your customer. Every person loves being asked about things important to him or her. We all love to talk about ourselves and our needs and we almost get all excited when we see the other party interested in what we are saying; listening actively and asking follow-up questions. Like almost all research confirm today, I believe that a great sales person listens at least twice as much as he/she talks.

To conclude – I think meeting expectations becomes much easier if you’re not afraid of asking questions and take the time to listen actively to the answers. I had a friend who formulated the term “managing by asking questions” – I guess most people would call this “coaching” today. Whatever the term is, I am convinced that asking more relevant questions and listening actively leads to better results in all situations in life.


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