Understanding the social interaction is one of the biggest challenges in life. Many conflicts are the result of the gap between what we expect them to do versus what they actually do. Often this contradiction produces a big wave of emotions and results in fights.
Vroom, the author of the Theory of expectations (in Pérez, J. M. L., Pérez, J. M. L., Méndez, S. R., Jaca, M. L. M., 2010), explains how an expectation is the subjective perception about the probability that a particular event will have a specific result. This perception is the outcome of the beliefs which we have built throughout our life to understand the external world.
We do have expectations every day both on simple and complex circumstances: the cake we baked will be delicious, the movie we chose will be interesting, the new haircut will look nice, etc. We also expect some behaviors coming from other people (this being of course even more difficult to predict compared with a cake recipe!).
Statements like: ‘You should do […]’, ‘You shouldn’t have […]’, ‘You should be […]’ and ‘I was expecting you to […]’, are the main triggers for arguments and conflicts, because they are based on our expectations and not on reality. When we are able to recognize this phenomenon during our social interactions, we are able to prevent misunderstandings. Of course we all have our own beliefs and we act accordingly, and that’s why it might be difficult to predict a behavior.
How can we manage expectations?
First, learning more about our system of beliefs. Analyzing our behavior and discovering our beliefs by asking ourselves: ‘What are we doing?’, ‘Why are we doing it and what do we expect from it?’ will contribute to recognize our internal dialog.
The second step is become aware that there are controllable and uncontrollable situations. Peoples’ responses are uncontrollable, although, our reaction to that behavior is controllable; thus, we can decide how to behave.
What can I do in practice?
Hasson (2015), proposes this exercise to increase our mental flexibility and abandon our control tendencies:
- Think about something hard to accept. Be aware of what happened. Describe the situation (you can even write it down). Allow yourself to feel the emotions related with that particular situation (anger, fear, sadness, anxiety).
- Once you feel ready to let it go, imagine yourself writing the situation in a piece of paper and then observing it while it flies away pushed from the wind (if you decided to write it you can eventually burn the sheet or you create your own way to ‘let it go’).
- Finally accept it: reckon that things happened just as they did and you can’t change that.
Asking ourselves how we can solve a problem and which areas are under our control, could be a good start for a life which is less based on expectations and more open to be surprised by people and life. This new perspective will enable us to better enjoy every aspect of life. Indeed, this is an invitation to start again to discover the world like a child does.
Hasson, G. (2015) Mindfulness pocketbook: little exercises for a calmer life. Capstone. Great Britain.
Pérez, J. M. L., Pérez, J. M. L., Méndez, S. R., Jaca, M. L. M. (2010, April 23). page_06. Retrieved September 09, 2015, from ocwus Web site: http://ocwus.us.es/psicologia-social/psicologia-de-los-recursos-humanos/temas/tema3cg/page_06.htm.