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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

How can you more clearly communicate expectations that drive results?

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

a hand is drawing circles with a pen. The center circle says expectation. Four circles surround it with time, money, scope, and quality.

Do others know what you expect?

Do you communicate your expectations clearly?

If others told you what they think you expect, how well would their expectations match yours?

If they don’t match, who’s at fault? Hint… It’s you.

When is it important to clearly communicate expectations?

Providing clear expectations is important in every setting in which we live and work – at home, at work, at school, everywhere!

In families, clearly communicating expectations leads to more highly functioning families. For example, parents need to clearly communicate what jobs they expect children to complete, when they expect a teenager to return home from an event, and standards of acceptable behavior. Clearly communicated expectations also improve marital harmony and extended family dynamics.

In the workplace, clearly communicated expectations relieve the stress of second-guessing what a boss wants done and how and when to do it. Colleagues who communicate expectations clearly have better working relationships and improved teamwork. Expectations for customer service elevate the quality.

In academia, clearly communicated expectations are essential for instructors to provide students with assignments. Well-written syllabi, clear instructions, and detailed grading rubrics help provide this needed clarity. As a former instructor, I know first-hand that clear expectations greatly reduce student questions, complaints, and poor-quality work.

When communicating, providing expectations to the audience about what will be communicated and how to put it into action helps audiences know what is coming and what is expected of them.

Can you think of any situation where clearly communicated expectations are unnecessary? I can’t.

Why is it important to clearly communicate our expectations?

Clear expectations provide a road map to follow and define the desired results or destination. They describe what is acceptable versus what falls short. Clear expectations lead to results.

When expectations are clearly communicated, they not only produce better results, but also greatly relieve stress. Consider how stressful uncertainty is and how clarity creates calm.

Clear expectations reduce misunderstandings, prevent frustration, provide standards to evaluate performance, and promote ownership and accountability. Can you think of other benefits?

How can one more clearly communicate expectations?

Communicating expectations begins with creating them. Consider all the essential elements to include and how to describe each one.

Look at the illustration above for examples of what needs to be clarified. The four characteristics listed are a great starting point in creating expectations. For example…

  • If we don’t clarify a deadline or time limitation, how does one know when you expect completion?

  • If you don’t clarify a budget, how can one know how much money they are allowed to spend?

  • If we don't clarify the scope, how does one know what the expectations specifically cover? Scope describes depth, breadth, and more.

  • If we don't define standards of excellence to achieve, how does one know the expected quality of performance or work?

Get audience input when developing expectations and feedback once drafted. Rewrite until fully understood. Continue to review and revise expectations for as long as they are in effect.

Once written, determine the best methods for communicating them, which can include written instructions, videos or illustrations, examples to follow, and in-person explanations. Make these decisions with audience input as well.

Provide adequate time for communicating the expectations prior to being needed and confirm receipt and comprehension. Allow for questions and further clarification. Ask the audience to put the expectations into their own words to check for understanding.

Need more ideas for clearly communicating expectations? Check out these posts:

What expectations do you need to communicate to an audience? How can you create and communicate them to achieve the desired outcomes and enhance relationships?

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

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