Have you ever met up with friends wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, then find out everyone else was dressed for a night out?
Or showed up to a Halloween party only to realize you’re the only one in costume?
What about joining a team meeting that lasts way too long without accomplishing your objectives because you can’t seem to get on the same page?
All of these situations have one thing in common: a lack of clear expectations.
Unclear expectations can derail just about any situation, but perhaps nowhere is setting expectations more important than between a manager and an employee. By communicating expectations on both sides, and discussing each person’s hopes and fears as well, difficult situations can be avoided.
Setting Expectations Should Be a Two-Way Street
Everyone enters new work situations with their own set of expectations, whether that’s a new job at a new company or a new role within the same organization. As a manager, being straightforward in voicing your expectations and creating space for employees to do the same starts the relationship off strong and paves the way for success.
One HR Dive survey found that nearly half of employees have left a job because it didn’t align with their expectations, most notably, about their job responsibilities and the overall work environment.
But discussing expectations can be uncomfortable. That’s one reason so many managers avoid the conversation and instead operate on assumptions, in hopes those assumptions won’t be proved wrong and lead to negative results. Another too-common approach is for managers to dictate expectations without asking for insight in return.
People don’t always think about things the same way. Especially in work setting, people default to operating based on what they think is best. As a manager, it’s easy to slip into this rut with both new and existing employees.
But, as business communication expert Shari Harley says, “People don’t need what you need. They need what they need.”
Successful manager/employee relationships start with proactive conversations that involve both parties, allowing employees and managers to get on the same page from day one.
When employees are invited to share their expectations, they become active participants. They are more likely to feel comfortable jumping into the work because they know the structure and guidelines of their role and the company as a whole. Just like a person playing a card game without reading the rules likely won't feel confident making a move, an employee who doesn't understand what’s expected of them may feel unsure about speaking up or diving into aspects of their new role.
Moving Beyond Expectations by Embracing Vulnerability
Discussing expectations helps provides clarity, but for a work relationship to really flourish, try taking the conversation a step further and dig into two high-impact emotions that are often forgotten: Hopes and fears.
Talking about these two things forces vulnerability and humility, and leads to stronger bonds and a better work environment as what a person hopes and fears can strongly influence their behavior.
Sharing hopes and fears helps both sides provide support and assurance, which is powerful in building psychological safety.
Leadership experts Amy C. Edmondson and Per Hugander put it this way: “Creating psychological safety — the confidence that candor and vulnerability are welcome — in a workplace is truly challenging and takes an unusual degree of commitment and skill. It’s natural for people to hold back ideas, be reluctant to ask questions and shy away from disagreeing with the boss. Given this tendency, the free exchange of ideas, concerns, and questions is routinely hindered — far more often than most managers realize.”
Managers who create an environment where vulnerability is encouraged and rewarded build greater trust and more engaged teams. Discussing hopes and fears alongside expectations is one way to lay the foundation for that type of environment.
The Hopes, Expectations, and Fears Conversation Format
By now you’re hopefully seeing the importance of discussing hopes, expectations, and fears with your reports. What you might be wondering at this point is how you can actually go about holding the conversation. The answer? You just have to do it.
At Campfire, a conversation centered on hopes, expectations, and fears is part of a new employee’s onboarding experience, and we would encourage you to make it part of yours as well. In this conversation, manager and report share their hopes, expectations, and fears with each other to build empathy and understanding.
Often, managers feel uncomfortable kickstarting a conversation around expectations. Using hopes, expectations, and fears as a scaffold for the discussion helps alleviate some of those feelings. It provides an outline for managers and employees to work together to listen to each other’s expectations and communicate clearly, and creates an environment of openness and honesty, even for people who are naturally more hesitant to share. It also establishes relationships built on accurate information and communication instead of assumptions.
Let’s breakdown each of the three talking points in more detail:
The conversation between a manager and their report starts positively by sharing hopes. People are naturally more willing to share what they are looking forward to, making it easier to segue into other topics.
When an employee starts a new position, they are excited about the opportunity. Hopes tap into those positive emotions and include what the manager and team members hope for in the relationship and work environment. It can consist of what the team member or leader saw in the interview that excited them, what they look forward to about working with this person, what they picture the relationship becoming, and how their work will change now that they are working together.
Discussing hopes allows managers and employees to share why they are entering the relationship and the possibilities for what’s to come.
Sharing expectations early on sets the stage for the entire working environment and proactively builds trust and cohesiveness.
When talking about expectations, managers and employees can share big-picture items like what they expect from working together and what they envision for themselves and the team. Expectations can also cover minor, more tactical issues, like how each person desires to work, what they need to be successful, and how they want to be treated.
When communicating expectations, be honest — this is the time to make your voice heard. Not clearly articulating what you expect from a relationship because you’re concerned about how it will be perceived can start your relationships on uneven footing, rather than creating a positive, collaborative environment.
Most people are afraid of discussing work-related fears because they don't want to share too much or come across as timid. But everyone has fears related to their job, and discussing them vulnerably brings people together on a different level.
Discussing fears should be done in a way that isn’t offensive or a personal attack. Just because someone has a fear about another person or the work situation doesn’t mean they think negatively about the person. More likely, they are afraid of how their standing and work will be affected by their fear.
Fears include sharing things each person is nervous about in working together, worries about the future of their position at work, or stories they tell themselves about how things could go wrong.
When establishing expectations, a proactive and honest conversation is vital.
An open conversation about hopes, fears, and expectations between a manager and each employee on their team sets the tone for a beneficial and empowering work environment.
Read a firsthand experience about the hopes, expectations, and fears conversation structure here 👉