Effective Communication (Part 1: Expectations)

by | Apr 8, 2019 | Leadership

Want less drama in your life? Communication is the key. 90% of all management problems, relationship issues, and marital conflict are a result of miscommunication. Over the next two weeks, I’m going to share 4 Keys to Effective Communication: Expectations, Praise, Feedback, and Customization. In today’s leadership training session, I talk about the cause of most of our frustration and disappointment and how to minimize it through the 3 C’s of setting effective expectations.



Session Outline 

About a week ago, Jen and I were driving home from some time with family. As we typically do on Sundays, we started discussing our schedule for the next week. I reminded Jen that I would probably be working most of Monday and Tuesday night on a big project for work. As I was sharing this, Jen immediately started to show signs of disappointment.  She knew that we were going to have a busy back half of the week, and she mentioned she was a bit disappointed that we weren’t going to get to spend at least one of those nights together. When I saw that disappointment, and heard what she said, I became frustrated because I had specifically communicated earlier in the week that I would have to work. I had tried to be proactive, and it didn’t work. What was the issue? Miscommunication.

Dale Carnegie said in his book How to Make Friends and Influence People, “90% of all management problems are caused by communication”.  I believe we could also say that 90% of all relationship problems are caused by miscommunication.

The better we communicate, the fewer problems that arise.

Over the next few sessions, we are going to talk about four keys to effective communication: expectations, praise, feedback, and customization. Today, let’s chat about expectations.


A former boss and mentor of mine always told me that “frustration and disappointment come from unmet expectations”.  In my story about Jen and my miscommunication, I didn’t set clear expectations. I said, “Monday or Tuesday” instead of “Monday and Tuesday”.  “Or” is very different from “And”. One little word can make all the difference.

If you think back to all the frustrations you’ve had with your spouse, friends, or co-workers, I bet you could trace a high percentage of those frustrations back to unmet expectations.  

So how do we avoid this?

The Three C’s 

In order to clearly communicate your expectations, speak with clarity, cautiously, and critically.

Be clear and specific with what you expect. Don’t assume anything, and make sure to clarify with the other person. When appropriate, it can be helpful to repeat your understanding of their statement verbally or in writing. For example, you might set a work deadline for “this Friday” instead of generally stating, “soon” in order to communicate clearly. At home, this means being specific with your instructions. Instead of saying, “it would be nice to clean your room”, say, “would you mind cleaning your room by Saturday morning because we have guests coming over?”.  Fight against ambiguity.

Be cautious of subconscious or unspoken expectations. Many times, we place expectations on others (especially our spouse) that we have never actually communicated to them, and then when they don’t meet those expectations, we get frustrated or disappointed. That isn’t fair to those around us. If you find yourself starting to become frustrated with someone else, take a step back or check to see if you have actually communicated your expectations (or if your expectations are realistic).

Be more critical of yourself and more gracious with the other person during miscommunications. Many people, including myself, usually reverse it. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Ask yourself, “What is my role in the miscommunication?”. Even if you are only 1% wrong, apologize.  Take ownership for your contribution to the miscommunication and acknowledge how you hurt the other person.

Game Plan

  1. Think back to the last miscommunication you had; whether that was with your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker. What was the cause of that miscommunication?
  2. Learn from it. What could you do better to prevent that miscommunication from happening in the future?

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