Posted on: June 8th, 2021 by
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What happens when there’s a major difference of expectations between the boss and a subordinate?  What about different expectations between a product’s stated value on the label and the experience of the consumer?  How about opposite expectations between spouses about household duties or money?  The usual answer:  Conflict.

Here are some common examples of how dissimilar expectations in the work-world leads to conflict that could and should have been avoided:

  • During a performance evaluation meeting, when a subordinate believes their annual performance has been excellent, but the boss views the performance as average.
  • During a budget review, the department head asks for an additional staff member due to the work load and the Vice President sees the department as being overstaffed.
  • The boss asks the sales team to improve revenue by 5%. The boss expects results in 6 months while the team thought the goal was 12 months.  Which expectation is right?


There can be a number of causes for dissimilar or conflicting expectations.  What are the causes and whose responsibility is it to avoid the resulting conflict?  Here are a few:

  • Lack of clear objectives, outcomes or time-line
  • Unclear communications to members of a work group
  • Lack of full and balanced discussions between responsible parties
  • Absence of written definitions or agreements
  • Scarcity of questions from subordinates or answers from bosses


Who is usually responsible for an expectation gap?  Most times it’s the boss who isn’t attentive to the needs of the organization or their people.  Or it could be the lack of questions by the work group in asking for details around expectations.  Whatever the cause, the issues of expectations can be easily corrected, but it needs to happen at the beginning of the process, not at the end.


When interviewing for a job, who and what should you ask about expectations?  It’s a question that you need to ask during each and every interview. Why?  Different expectations from different people means problems ahead.  Collect information and make sure everyone is consistent with the same set of expectations:

  • Boss – To get a clear understanding what the boss expects in the first 6 to 12 months
  • Working Team – To collect information as to how you fit into the work group and how you might be better able to advance results and be successful
  • Subordinates – Understand how you can support their efforts and meet their expectations in growing their skills and expanded responsibilities
  • Senior Management – Understand the longer-term expectations over the next 5 years. What Is the strategic direction in addition to the annual objectives?


Defining expectations in a clear and timely way is the beginning of a successful project, relationship or connection.  It’s the glue that makes for a common understanding of opportunities.  Without a common set of expectations, the road ahead is full of conflicts, misunderstandings and failure.  Differing expectations can be the great killer.


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