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Avoiding not so ‘Great Expectations’

Lt. Col. Timothy Purcell, 50th Operations Support Squadron commander (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. Timothy Purcell, 50th Operations Support Squadron commander (U.S. Air Force photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Think about things that caused you concern, anxiety or frustration last week.  Perhaps your utility bill was higher than expected, your kids misbehaved, your boss was upset because you missed a deadline, your performance report wasn’t as strong as you hoped, a meeting ran over 30 minutes longer, your football team blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, the weather made you late for work.

 What's the common theme in all of these examples?

The answer is the outcome didn't match your expectations.  The difference between your expectations and reality is known as the expectations gap.  If you think about it, most worries and conflicts in life are caused by an expectations gap.  You didn't expect the meeting to run long.  You didn't expect to miss a deadline.  You didn’t expect your kids to misbehave.  You didn't expect to have a frozen windshield this morning.

Unmet expectations aren't just a source of frustration, they can spark disappointment and even mistrust.  Clearly, this can affect personal and professional relationships and diminish a team's effectiveness.  As Airmen, we must all strive to set realistic expectations for our leadership, peers, and subordinates at every opportunity through effective communications.

The more information missing, the greater the expectations gap and therefore, the higher probability of disappointment or conflict.  This is why early and frequent communication is critical.  Whether it's your spouse, your boss or your subordinate, keep people informed so they can accurately adjust their expectations and make wise decisions.  Avoid surprises.  Unless it has a bow on it, people generally don't like surprises. For example, you were surprised by your high utility bill because you didn't track your usage closely throughout the month.  The weather delayed your commute to work because you didn't check the weather forecast before going to bed.  Your expectations gap, and therefore your frustration, could be avoided with greater information.

Additionally, an expectations gap can be caused by a lack of honesty or transparency.  This occurs when someone thinks they have all relevant information but in fact, the information isn't accurate.  For example, your supervisor is upset you missed a deadline because you didn't give them advance notice and their expectation was you would complete the task on time.  You're upset about your performance report because your supervisor didn't provide you with honest feedback soon enough to give you an opportunity to make course corrections and improve performance.

In order to maximize your effectiveness as an Airman, strive to establish and adjust realistic expectations at every opportunity.  Don't let people be surprised.  Provide early, often and honest communication to eliminate, or at least minimize, their expectations gap.  Seek out greater information to minimize your own expectations gap.  Sometimes you'll discover your expectations are unrealistically high and you need to adjust them. Personally, I should've learned a long time ago, after many heart-breaking losses, my football team is capable of blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead.  Someday, I might actually lower my expectations to avoid the perpetual disappointment and frustration I experience most college football Saturdays.

We have countless opportunities each and every day to set and adjust expectations at all levels of the chain of command.  If we all make a deliberate effort to communicate early, often and honestly with our leadership and our subordinates, we’ll eliminate many expectations gaps and become a more effective, mission-focused force.  This is especially important in times of rapid change.  As we strive to perfect our execution of Space Mission Force and many other initiatives here at the 50th Space Wing on short order, the room for miscommunication and misunderstanding is high.  Be proactive and when you see an expectations gap, address it quickly so our Airmen can focus on commanding space and cyber systems to deliver global combat effects!