"Really? It's so sad that you bought a brand new car and IT DIDN'T COME WITH TURN SIGNALS!!!"
Ask any of my three children, my husband or anyone else that has spent much time with me in a car, and they will tell you that I can get pretty irritated when I am driving. I don't do nasty things like share inappropriate hand gestures, or lay on my horn, or curse, but I do mutter and have one-sided conversations with the other drivers. Recently, I seem to be surrounded by drivers that do not use their turn signals. AND IT MAKES ME NUTS!!!
Before I turn my driving pet peeve into a deep thought that I hope you ponder as you reflect on your life this week (WOW - that was deep), I want you to know that I looked for cartoons or comics that made fun of people NOT using their turn signals. I found very few and none of them were appropriate for this family-rated blog, but there were HUNDREDS of cartoons about the people that leave their signals on. I know that is an issue that can also cause irritation, but I never run into one. However, as I get into this analogy tonight, I am sure you can begin to draw your own conclusions about the drawbacks of either neglecting to turn a turn signal on or neglecting to turn a turn signal off.
Sunday morning, I was driving to church. I try to make Sunday a different day in my life. I don't shop at any stores. I try not to do any housework, yard work or work-work. I try to cook a special evening meal. I don't listen to the same kind of music I do the other 6 days of the week; I tune into only classical (or a baseball game, if it's baseball season). I might use that day to write cards to family members or friends. I pay extra attention to what I am grateful for and reflect on the kind of person I have been that week. I wish I could say that I do that last one every day of the week, but I don't. The bottom line is that I try to make Sundays special. They always were in my house when I was growing up and I try to do the same thing. This last Sunday as I was driving to church, which is about a 12 minute drive from my house, I was joined on the roads by three different drivers that made turns WITHOUT using any signal. The first one - I sighed. The second one - I hit the palm of my hand on the steering wheel (NOT the horn). The third one - I lost it and started yelling in my car.
WHAT IS YOUR DEAL?
WHY CAN'T YOU REMEMBER TO TURN ON YOUR SIGNAL?
YOU ARE A MORON
SERIOUSLY? DID YOU REALLY JUST DO THAT?
DUDE, IT ISN'T THAT HARD TO DO
HOW ABOUT THINK AHEAD BEFORE YOU JUST MOVE YOUR CAR?
Yep, I was crabby. I took a deep breath and tried to think about why that is so irritating to me. It has to be more than a driving thing. It didn't take long for me to figure out what was at the core of my disgust with this driving faux pas that I see all the time. The real irritation/anger/frustration comes because these people have not managed my expectations. Admittedly, I have an expectation when people drive that they will let me know when they are going to turn because their action often requires a reaction on my part. I might need to brake or at least take my foot off the gas or move over. Sometimes, their unsignaled move can and does cause accidents. Sometimes, it's just an irritation to me because it doesn't allow me to respond in a timely manner.
I started to think about how mismanaged expectations cause problems in real life. People don't often like surprises - maybe for a birthday party or a date or a gift - but with decisions, money, plans, etc. people aren't all that thrilled when you suddenly pull something on them. Some personality types really like to be in the know - they like to feel prepared - they want to know what is expected of them - they want to have time to plan. Other people handle not knowing much better, but in general it is a good idea to let people know what you are thinking about doing. Picture the boss that has an idea of what a "good job" looks like, but doesn't share those specific expectations with you. Then, you give the presentation or write the report and he is disappointed. "That wasn't what I was expecting." Then, you get irritated because you didn't know what he was looking for. Parents do the same thing with their kids. "I'd like you to shovel the sidewalk." They do - you go out and proceed to reshovel and tell them you should have just done it yourself because they "didn't do it right". Did you bother to tell them exactly what your expectations were?
Mismanaged expectations are a primary source of conflict, anger, disappointment, and frustration in all types of relationships. Spouse. Parents. Friends. Boss-employee. Co-workers. I am not perfect at managing others' expectations, and I continue to work at it. I have expectations in my head; the action I have to take is to become transparent and share those with others. Whenever I take the time to do that, things work out better. It doesn't mean that things will go smoothly because people may still not like your choice or your plan, but at least then the conflict can just be about the issue itself and not be complicated by the fact that you weren't clear on what you were going to do or what you were expecting of them.
Am I making any sense to you? I sure hope so.
Managing expectations with people does take time, however it will save you in time, energy and upset that occurs when expectations are not met.
The powerful question I am asking you to ponder this week is this ... What parts of your life have unclear or mismanaged expectations? and what do you want to do about it?