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by Naomi Karten

Adapted from Managing Expectations. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. See below for copyright notice.

I'm a student of human behavior and a dabbler in the art of managing expectations. It was not part of my master plan to become either the student or the dabbler. In fact, I was destined for greatness in the field of mathematics, and would, I'm sure, have achieved that greatness, were it not for day one of my class in linear algebra as a college freshman.

There, perched on a platform where she towered over a sea of mathematician wannabes, stood the most terrifying woman I had ever seen. She looked tough, and sounded even tougher. She was wearing high-heeled boots, and I, a member of the sneaker set, found this image frightening. In one of those memorable moments that shapes lives, I listened to this woman bellow at us, "If you don't learn the eighteen-step proof that A times one equals A, don't expect to pass this course!"

That, although I didn't know it at the time, was the beginning of my interest in the subject of expectations.

It was also the end of my not-yet-budding career in mathematics. I was into efficiency, and eighteen steps to prove A times one equals A was seventeen too many. A times one did equal A. What else could it equal?

I switched my major to psychology. I learned about motivation, learning theory, patterns of reinforcement, expectations . . . . Well, there wasn't really a course in expectations, but that's what many of the courses were about, as I realize in looking back.

After getting a couple of degrees in psychology, I switched focus again and became a programmer. That wasn't part of my master plan either, but my husband, Howard, was a programmer, and he and his techie friends spoke a language I couldn't understand. It was full of buzzwords, jargon, acronyms. I couldn't stand not understanding that language, and decided to become a programmer just for a short while, until I learned some jargon.

To my great surprise, I got hooked. I discovered I loved programming. I loved debugging. I loved the buzzwords, the jargon, and the acronyms. And I loved working with our internal customers. Well, most of them, anyway. And even then, not all day every day. They all seemed to have so many expectations. Occasionally, I found myself thinking, If it weren't for the customers, this job could be fun.

I rose through several technical and customer support positions, and suddenly one day I was an information systems manager. This, too, was not part of my master plan, but there was a reorganization, and the next thing I knew, I was a manager. And before I could adjust my new chair so that my feet could reach the floor, customers started calling, wanting to know where their output was. They didn't care that I had just started as manager an hour earlier, and they didn't want to hear that the system had crashed, and that we were scrambling to figure out why. All they knew was their output was due at eight o'clock, and it was now nine o'clock. From that moment on, almost every problem I experienced, witnessed, or heard about revolved in some way or other around expectations.

I've now spent more than a decade as a speaker, seminar leader, and consultant, and I've listened to countless stories information systems professionals have told me about their customers' misguided or hard-to-manage expectations. However, what has become apparent from these stories is that only rarely do these people see themselves as responsible for the problems they face. Instead, in the vast majority of experiences, information systems personnel fault their customers for having unreasonable or unrealistic expectations.

Ironically, as I've listened to information systems customers describe their experiences, it has become apparent that systems professionals often have expectations of their customers that are just as unreasonable. In fact, it's intriguing how often systems professionals and customers accuse each other of exactly the same faults: withholding information, not listening, making false assumptions, and failing to understand their perspective.

My conclusion is that if each party sees the other as the problem, then the problem must belong to both. It is probable that we service providers bear responsibility for some of our customers' expectations. We may have done things, or failed to do things, that led our customers to have the expectations they have. And what about all those situations in which expectations on both sides have been perfectly reasonable, but different -- only we didn't realize it until it was too late, because we mistakenly believed we understood each other, were talking the same language, and were striving for the same goals?

Despite all the factors that make customer/provider relationships difficult, such interactions should be win-win relationships, and can be if expectations are clarified early on. It is my hope that this book will help you gain a better understanding of the role expectations play in your relationships with those you serve, support, or interact with in the course of your work.

I hope it meets your expectations.

November 1993   
Randolph, Massachusetts 
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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This excerpt from Managing Expectations: Working with People Who Want More, Beter, Faster, Sooner, NOW! [ISBN:0-932633-27-7] appears by permission of Dorset House Publishing. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Karten . All rights reserved. See http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/me.html. The material contained in this file may be shared for noncommercial purposes only, nonexclusively, provided that this Copyright Notice always appears with it. This material may not be combined with advertisements, online or in print, without explicit permission from Dorset House Publishing. For copies of the printed book or for permissions, contact Dorset House Publishing, 1-800-342-6657, 212-620-4053, http://www.dorsethouse.com, info@dorsethouse.com, New: 3143 Broadway, Suite 2B, New York, NY 10027 USA. Additional rights limitations apply, as presented in the Legal Disclaimer posted at http://www.dorsethouse.com/legal.html.



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