Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Clear Expectations

The realm of human communications can be quite complicated. We have all experienced conflict and difficulties in our relationships with other people. Communicating clearly is not as easy as we would like for it to be.

I've noticed that one problematic pattern is not communicating clearly and directly what our needs, wants and expectations are in relationship. Sometimes I think we want people to just 'know' what we want and need. There seems to be a deep yearning to be 'understood' that we all share. It shows up, sometimes, as an unrealistic expectation that those close to us will read our minds and meet our needs and expectations without our having to ask.

This is a dangerous way to approach life. We are left feeling frustrated and unfulfilled much of the time, because most people are not mind readers!

Authors Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson gave a great example of this in their classic work (The One Minute Manager) on how to be an effective manager. They encouraged us to realize that we will achieve better results if we set clear expectations about what we are looking for in the actions of another person. If we don't set clear expectations, he suggested that it was a bit like asking someone to bowl with a curtain between them and the pins. They would need to hurl the ball down the bowling alley, but they would not know how many pins, or which pins they knocked down as they bowled. On the first attempt, they might knock down a few bowling pins, but when it came time to try to knock down the remaining pins, the bowler would have no idea what to aim for. How much sense does that make? None what-so-ever.

It makes about as much sense to expect those in relationship with us to know what we want and need without giving them that information. When we ask them to read our minds, we are asking them to bowl blind. This is highly unlikely to yield a good result in our relationships.

Communicating honestly and clearly about what we want, need and hope for in relationship is key to having a healthy and balanced relationship. It works the same in all forms of relationship. Communicating clearly and directly with the person we are relating to increases our chances of getting what we seek.

This is simple, but not always easy to do. The first step is to cultivate awareness of how often we avoid expressing our wants and needs clearly and directly to those around us. Then, it requires assertiveness and a certain amount of self esteem so that we believe we deserve to have a good relationship that meets our needs. Finally, it requires practice.

Don't ask people in your life to 'bowl blind.' Practice clear and honest communication and watch your life improve!

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