One year, in what I can only assume was a state of extreme sleep deprivation, I invited six relatives and a dog to stay with us over the Christmas holiday. The fact that I had a colicky newborn, a 3-year-old and a full-time job did not factor into the equation. As Christmas approached I somehow managed to buy gifts and get my house in order. But I never made it to the grocery store.
Christmas morning, I awoke to the sinking realization that I had nothing to feed the family of ten for Christmas dinner. The afternoon found me searching the freezer in a near panic trying to come up with dinner out of thin air. And then my eyes lit on a large bag of frozen meatballs bought for a party that never materialized. Voila – spaghetti and meatballs!
Although I felt pretty sheepish about it, we had a relaxed and enjoyable celebration. No one seemed bothered that we were eating such a pedestrian dinner. It was only years later when I mentioned it to one of my relatives that I realized that no one knew that I had punted dinner. They thought it was dinner as planned.
The lesson here is about expectations – are the people you serve setting them or are you? Throughout my management career I have seen an awful lot of people struggle to fulfill an expectation no one actually has. The result is a lot of unneeded work and a fair amount of resentment when the work is not ultimately appreciated as much as the effort warrants. Give yourself a break this holiday season – focus on what the people around you really expect – whether it’s kindness, competence, warmth or a reasonably good meal. And punt the rest.
Have a story about setting expectations? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I use it I’ll feature your business.