Manage Your Expectations

Business lady sitting in front of a laptop

“Manage your expectations” is a phrase you’ve probably heard many times in various situations ranging from the home to the workplace. It is nevertheless an excellent way to avoid conflict and to prevent negative thoughts from spiralling out of control. Here’s how you can put this oft-heard concept into action.

Related: Working Well with Your Colleagues

1. Check and Clarify

One of the main causes of conflict often stems from a mismatch of expectations between colleagues. If you receive an instruction that sounds unfair to you, it’s best to seek clarification first before taking any further steps.

Related: The Awkward Turtle

2. Assess and Adjust

One of the tenets of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tells us that how we think affects how we respond to situations. Recognising this, it’s good to reflect on whether your expectations of others might be realistic. Adjust your expectations if what you want lies out of your or other people’s control.

Related: Getting High on Team Sports

3. Communicate

Communication skills are essential at the workplace. Focus more on listening and less on expressing your own expectations.

Related: How to Communicate Needs to Your Partner

4. Accept Disappointment and Move Forward

When you realise that there are things out of your control, it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to react next. You can choose to wallow in disappointment, or take control of your life and start making positive plans to move forward.

Related: Spending Quality Time Alone

Recognise Thinking Traps

Woman dressed in office attire lying face down on a couch 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting that things will always happen the way you want them to. Unfortunately, things hardly happen this way, and you are left feeling disappointed and filled with negative thoughts and emotions. Being aware of which thinking traps you are susceptible to will help you to catch hold of yourself before it’s too late.

Related: The Science of Happiness

1. All or Nothing Thinking

Are you the sort that equates anything less than perfection to total failure? For example: “I couldn’t close this deal. I’m a complete failure.”

Related: Depression

2. Over-Generalisation

Do you have a tendency to blow things out of proportion: to think that a one-off event is a sign that all future events will be the same? This often manifests through frequent use of the words “never” and “always”. For example: “I failed my driving test. I’m never going to pass it,” or “It always rains when I want to go for a run.”

Related: I Am What I Think

3. Minimisation

Are you likely to discount the positive or negative elements of a situation by minimising your accomplishments or downplaying the risks of a situation? For example: “We may have clinched the deal, but the team would have done it without me anyway,” or “I’m not going to put on the seatbelt. Seriously, what are the chances of an accident happening?”

Related: It's the Little Things

4. Jumping to Conclusions

Do you often make a definitive assessment of the situation even when all the facts aren’t in? For example: “He did not greet me this morning like he usually does. He must dislike me now.”

Related: Coping with Change

5. Emotional Reasoning

Do you make judgements based on how you are feeling, instead of using facts and logic? For example: “I feel anxious in airplanes hence it must not be safe to fly.”

Related: Finding Emo — Know and Manage Your Emotions

6. Confirmation Bias

Do you only look at evidence that supports your current belief, neglecting to consider competing facts? For example: “I always knew my boss had it in for me. This bad appraisal review only confirms it.”

Related: Mental Toughness is Like a Fruit Bowl

Identify Your Explanatory Style

Thinking and Results Diagram drawn on a napkin 

Recognising your explanatory style will help you to consider alternative ways of perceiving both positive and negative events. Three elements contribute to explanatory style: locus of control (internal/external), incident-specificity (global/specific), and time-specificity (stable/unstable).

The following cake baking example will help you to better visualise the three elements mentioned above.

Related: Stress Can Be Good for You

Close up of a fallen chocolate cake on the floor 

A Recipe for Unhappiness

A slice of rainbow cake 

Rainbows Don’t Last

Locus of Control

Internal: “It’s me. I always screw up.”

External: “The recipe on the packet was foolproof and I couldn’t have done it without help.”


Global: “I’m hopeless at everything.”

Specific: “I’m ok at baking cakes but I’m useless at everything that really matters.”


Stable: “I’m never going to be good at baking.”

Unstable: “It was a fluke. I’ll probably screw it up next time.”

The point is to be aware and recognise that we are employing these negative thinking patterns. It’s normal and human to think like this, but what we need is to counter the negative thinking by questioning its validity, and finding balance in our thoughts.

In conclusion, today’s work environment is more complicated than ever and can be characterised by the acronym VUCA[1], which stands for: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

It is therefore essential for you to go beyond technical ability, to acquire soft skills such as adaptability, being a good team player, and having an attitude of always learning and improving. These skills will not only help you to navigate around the pitfalls of the VUCA world, but also thrive in it.

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  1. Bennett, N. & Lemoine, G. J. (2014, Jan). What VUCA Really Means for You [Website].
    Retrieved September 2017 from https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you