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Great Business Relationships Start with Clear Expectations

July 30, 2018

You don't always get what you expect. You don't always know what is expected of you. Create great business relationships by starting with clear expectations.

"Get the expectations clear up front".

This caveat applies to all relationships in business and, if you think about it, in all other relationships as well. When dealing with partners, employees, vendors, clients, etc. it is imperative that you each know what others are expecting of you and of the situation. Unless these expectations are clearly articulated by all parties at the beginning of any relationship you will be in for a bumpy ride.

You cannot assume that other people are aware of your expectations, anymore than you can assume you know what they expect. Each person has the responsibility to make sure that his/her expectations are understood by everyone else involved in the relationship...I said understood, I did not say accepted. This is where negotiation, consensus and agreement come into the equation. Everyone may not have realistic expectations. And even if they are realistic others may not foresee the same outcomes.

Unless you are a mind reader you will not know exactly what others think. You need to investigate in detail what they expect to happen. Discussing and clarifying expectations at the outset protects you and the relationship. Know what you want and what you are willing to give. Find out as clearly as possible what the others believe, want and are willing to give. Figure out what the commitments of each person will be and how they and you are expected to behave.

Just because you expect someone to behave as you would in a given situation, they may not. Don't be surprised. We find that people are unpredictable because we base our predictions (expectations) on our perspective. I call this the "I would never do that syndrome". Maybe you wouldn't but your values are not the same as other people's values, and values control behaviors.

What you are willing to do and not do equates to setting your boundaries. If you are not clear upfront others may push unwanted responsibilities onto you or treat you in unwanted ways. You must be clear and make known what you will and will not tolerate. For example, if you are an outside consultant, you may need to state that you expect to have only one contact person in the organization and not be drawn into internal disagreements.

There needs to be firm agreements in business relationships regarding such things as deliverables, terms of payment, and time lines. However, there can be many expectations that do not get written into standard contracts. There are many reasons to uncover and agree on these seemingly minor details early on and in writing. One important reason is that these hidden expectations more often than the larger issues are what ruin relationships. Misunderstandings cause arguments, and blame abounds. Settling disputes arising from unclear (and oftentimes verbal) expectations help attorneys thrive.  

As Margaret Mitchell says, "Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect". And neither are other people, especially if they don't know what we expect. So, always get the expectations clear up front!

Source:  Jean Charles, 2/05/08

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