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by Frank Young Ph.D.

I have always been totally blown away by the awesome power of understatement.

You might recall that, in chapter 1, we reviewed the importance of managing expectations regarding arrangements we make with ourselves. We considered factors in goal setting and goal adjustment to maintain maximum motivation and personal development in achieving what we set out to do. In this article we examine how we manage others' expectations about our commitments to them. Most of these guidelines are self-evident, but they may serve as a handy checklist when negotiating expectations.

These are principles of integrity, margin and boundary management, and ultimately, self-esteem based on a record of following through. While many of the examples are from a career context, these principles of mental fitness also apply in family and social relationships as well. From what we know from research about stress management and the processes of Flow and enjoyment, several crucial points are:

1.  Resolve to under-commit, and thus, over-deliver. This first point is difficult to maintain in trying times, because in many of the projects or experiences in which we compete for the contract for a project, we often feel we must offer the most value-added in the least amount of time or for the least cost. Thus we are tempted to manage our own margins too tightly, and proceed with projections on an overly optimistic best-case scenario. A similar temptation can occur in many organizations, most of which are driven by a productivity ethic. When it comes to annual reviews and evaluations, the outcome bar is often set higher, whereas supportive resources or market opportunities may be lower. We are often encouraged to do more with less. To maintain our employment status, we often fall into this frequent trap of over-commitment, and its resultant months of stress. To avoid this pitfall, use some informational tools.

2.  Benchmark your role with industry standards about how long a job should take, at what level of quality, with what administrative or technical resources, and at what level of hourly payment by salary or contract.

Perhaps this sometimes difficult research step is the most crucial element in setting and asserting realistic standards. You want to wind up making a reasonable commitment, rather than a stressful promise, when shaping the expectations of other people or organizations.

3.  Regard yourself as a precision instrument that has optimal range and output specifications. You may be regarded by others as a human cyber, a cog in the organizational machine, but you will be ground up by that machine if you do not know what constitutes your personal limit or redline. This redline could include number of overtime hours per week, and family and personal commitment limits. If the organization demands performance and overtime that is greater than you can healthily sustain in your life balance, inquire what your resources might be if you found yourself in a state of temporary or permanent disability. Hopefully, your research in this area will allow you to negotiate more assertively about the resources you would need to attain the performance targets to which they want you to commit.


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