Fundamental of the Week #15: Be Accountable for Setting and Receiving Clear Expectations

Make sure your expectations are clear and what people hear is what you are asking. Be clear about what is expected of you.

What we hear and what is being said to us are often two very different things. The end product could lead to two very different outcomes. I’m married to my business partner, and early in our marriage I was complaining to a friend and mentor, “Marlene just doesn’t appreciate what I’m dealing with here!” He responded, “You don’t listen to her.” I was dumfounded! He said, “You hear whether you agree with what she is saying, or what you think she should be saying. In other words, you hear what your internal conversation is about what she is saying, not what she is actually saying.”

As I started to protest, after all I was in the communication business, I suddenly realized, “My God, he is right!” So, I went to Marlene and shared the conversation. I apologized, and promised going forward I would listen to her communications for her meaning, not my interpretation. I also promised to check in to make sure I was hearing what she was saying or asking. You might say this started me on the road to recovery.

I later learned that particular conversation most likely prevented an early demise to a partnership that is now 30 plus years and thriving. My experience has been that most people listen from their own point of view, missing the meaning of the speaker much of the time. This leads to failed delivery, angst, anger, disappointment, rework and inefficiency. In reality, it doesn’t take much more time to confirm with others what their intended outcome is in the conversation, what is being asked of me, or making sure that what others heard from me is what I meant.

It’s pretty simple to do this, just not necessarily easy, as there is vulnerability in admitting you might have heard or assumed a different intention. Since that pinnacle moment over three decades ago, I have been practicing listening for intent, checking in on understanding, and making sure others hear what I am saying or asking. I’m still practicing!

I probably saved a great and ever-growing partnership with my wife. I encourage you to take on the practice of being clear, and think about the relationships you could recover and possibly nurture into something stronger.

Craig Clark
Founder and CEO,
Momentum Consulting, Inc