Trust-Building Behavior #9 – Clarify Expectations

Trust-Building Behavior Number 9 – Clarify Expectations

            Have you ever had this experience?  You make an agreement, you deliver on the agreement, and then later, the person you made the agreement with accuses you of failing to keep your agreement.  What happened?  Often this is a result of unclear expectations.

            Clear communication is an important part of building trust.  You may be a person of integrity, keeping the vast number of agreements that you make, but if you do not understand what is expected of you, you may believe you have come through and you may still be breaking trust.

            One way to be clear about what others expect of you is to repeat back what you are hearing.  “You are asking me to have the report on your desk by 5 pm on Friday, March 18.  Is that right?”  Then the other person has the opportunity to say “yes,” or, “No, I wanted it sent to the client by 5 pm on Friday.”  Not only will this make it more likely you can keep the agreement, but it builds trust to simply ask the question.  It lets the other person know you want to, and intend to, keep the agreement.

            Unclear expectations can also be based on language we choose.  Imagine I ask my assistant to proofread a document for me by a certain time.  Imagine she does it within the timeframe and brings it back to me, having changed the grammar and re-arranged the flow of the document.  If what I wanted checked was the spelling and all my misspellings are still there, she will not have done what I asked for, in my mind.  We had different definitions of what was expected when I used the word “proofread.”  An important thing to recognize is that we human beings use common words, but we have different meanings for those words.  I may use a word I think everyone understands.  When you hear it, you believe you understand it.  But as with the “proofreading” example, we may not be on the same page and we don’t know it until the agreement appears to be broken.  So here is another place to gain clarity.  “When you say ‘proofread,’ what exactly are you asking me to do?”  Or, “Okay, so I will check the grammar and flow of the document and return it to you by 5 pm Friday.”  Then you will hear if we are on the same page.

            Additionally, once you are clear that you understand what you are agreeing to, write it down.  You may wish to have an “agreements book” – at least for awhile – and write all agreements in there, with the dates and times and details of what is expected of you.  Write down all agreements no matter how “large” or how “small,” you may believe them to be.  (In truth, there are no “large” or “small” agreements, only large or small consequences to not keeping them.)

            When someone e-mails you to confirm an appointment, that assists in building and maintaining trust.  The more people clarify expectations, the more they know when and where to show up.  If there is a misunderstanding in time and I don’t show up, I am breaking trust with you even though I meant to be there at the accurate time.

            On the other side of it, since trust is a relationship issue and therefore, a two-way street, if you ask for something and the other person agrees, it behooves you to ask, “What are you agreeing to?”  “What are you promising me?” or “What did you hear me say?”

            If you are on a team, at the end of the meeting ask each person, “what did you agree to do?”  Make sure there is a “by when” element.  Then the next beneficial step is to type up what everyone said in terms of agreements and distribute it among the entire team.  Finally, be sure when you distribute it to ask the members, ”Please let us know if any of this is not an accurate reflection of what you promised to do.”

            Never assume you are speaking clearly without asking for reflection back from the other person.  Never assume you are hearing clearly without checking in also.

            Finally, don’t agree unless you are clear you can meet those expectations.  Learn to say “No,” to what you do not believe you can accomplish.  Listen to the date the person wants the completion.  You may feel you can deliver on the promise but not by the time desired.  If there is no time element, ask!  “By when do you want this?”  It is my experience that this is one of the biggest breakdowns in keeping agreements and therefore, in trust – we do not become clear on the expectations regarding time.  If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether you can complete by that time, do not agree to do it!  Be willing to renegotiate an agreement you are clear you will be unable to keep  by the deadline — “I can get you this, but not by that day.  However, I will get it to you by 5 pm, Saturday, March 19.  Will that work for you?”

            Be crystal clear in your communication!

With yourself:  Be clear about what you expect of yourself.  Don’t let others talk you out of meeting your own expectations, and don’t let the expectations of others govern your decisions and your life.

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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