Workplace Communication: Managing Expectations at Work

Workplace Communication: Managing Expectations at Work

If only we could see the world for what it is, and not distort it with our smudgy  perception spectacles. One of life’s challenges is to interpret our existence in every moment. We collect the information available to us and then we are left to construct a meaning with these facts. How we sift this information is crucial to the belief that we develop about the situation. Research has shown that our expectations about any given situation in life form a powerful censor as to what we take in and what we choose to filter out.

We get what we expect. However we must be prepared to make ‘communication contact’ to clearly voice and confirm expectations with other parties because expectations that remain hidden can be colored by all sorts of misperceptions.

It has now become a well-established fact that we tend to scan for information that confirms our bias about situations in life, and remain blind to those factors that tend to deny our beliefs. In research circles this has come to be known as ‘confirmation bias’. We tend to look for information that confirms our beliefs and ignore details that support a contrary point of view.

Were you aware that your expectations of other people influence their behavior? People tend to perform the way we expect them to. What we believe about them has a powerful impact on their mental state and behavior. If we expect someone to always be late, the chances are much higher that they will be. If we expect someone to do well at a job, they will perform at a higher level. These are sobering facts because they suggest that these messages are communicated in a very subtle yet powerful way.  If we support people and see the best in them, we help them flourish. If we think less of them, we chip away at their sense of well-being.

Brian was a well established business man who felt that he needed to take responsibility for everyone else’s emotional discomfort. He was the team leader for a large project in a computer software company. There were many challenges, and from time to time team members needed to engage in vigorous debate in order to hammer out answers to their questions and get on with their work. This became very uncomfortable for Tim, a team member who played a key role in the project. He was highly competent technically but when his ideas were subjected to the scrutiny of the team, he descended into a dungeon of self blame. “It’s all my fault”, he would tell himself as his thinking and judgment became impaired. His discomfort was painfully obvious and whenever Brian saw this reaction, rather than offering Tim feedback regarding his dilemma, he cut off discussion and aborted any resolution to the matter at hand.

Brian scanned only for data that supported his belief that human discomfort was bad. He was completely blinded to fact that workable solutions do emerge from spirited discussion and disagreement.  His expectation was that such discussion would only serve to harm the team.  This left everyone bewildered and frustrated. Consequently discussions did become injurious from time to time, even though other members just wanted proper information so they could do their jobs.  Trust was lost and eventually there was a total breakdown in team morale and management found it necessary to replace Brian. His belief that human discomfort was bad, and his expectation that this discomfort would serve to harm, were paradoxically realized as he lost his grip on the situation. Brian’s confirmation bias severely distorted his view of the situation, and he eventually realized the very thing that he dreaded.

What can we do about our confirmation bias so it doesn’t impair our personal or workplace relationships?

  1. Be humble. Recognize that we all have a confirmation bias no matter how open we want to be. Let this serve to motivate us to keep looking for new answers even if we feel that we are right in our opinions. This attitude will serve to enhance effective workplace communication.
  2. From time to time challenge your own negative beliefs about the person(s) that you find troubling. Try hard to see if there is information that would disprove your bias.
  3. Put your bias to the test by initiating 360 degree Feedback. As you recognize your bias, ask for the opinion of others and listen to differing thoughts and opinions.
  4. Readjust your position if you discover valid, contradictory evidence.
  5. Be intentional about sending out positive thoughts to all involved. Expect and believe that everyone will do their best and people remarkably will rise to the occasion. Effective workplace communication requires an uplifting attitude.
  6. Visualize the best and watch it happen.

Our expectations impact how we see the world and how others respond to their environments. Effective workplace communication calls for a high level of social responsibility because we have a moral obligation to uncover the truth and see things as clearly as possible. This responsibility is heightened when we realize that our expectations of others can either augment or diminish their value. As communicators we must do our part in creating the best possible workplace environment, so that everyone can thrive. Effective workplace communication is about seeing the best in others, while still expecting them to deliver to identified expectations.

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