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How to Manage Your Expectations for Others

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You probably know that I am a huge fan of Byron Katie’s ‘The Work.’ She says that whenever we argue with reality, we lose.

Think about it: the space between what’s actually happening and what we want to be happening is discord, anxiety, stress, disappointment, fear, loss of control. It’s misery.

When something happens (reality) and we want it to be different or we think it should be different, Katie says, “We’re insane.” Not in a malicious way, but in a literal way — not accepting reality is insane.

While my views differ slightly from Katie, I love this framework because it reminds me to watch my expectations and stay in my business. Let me explain.

Super simple example: My birthday is coming up and I think, “My best friends should call me on my birthday.” Maybe I don’t think that consciously, but in my head I feel that’s a given, normal, expected, I mean, it’s the least they can do, right?

So I have my birthday and it’s great. I get calls and texts from friends and family and it makes me happy because it means people are thinking about me.

Except for these two friends. 
These two that I’m really close to. They should know it’s my birthday. They should find the time to reach out, even a text would do. I should mean that much to them, right? RIGHT?

  • Reality: Two friends who I deemed close enough to me to require Happy Birthday wishes did not reach out on my birthday for whatever reason.
  • My subjective interpretation: These two friends should have found the time, it’s not that hard, they must be too busy for me, maybe they don’t feel as close to me as I do to them, maybe they just don’t think that much of me.
  • My feelings as a result of that interpretation: surprise, resentment, sadness and insecurity (“don’t they like me?).

This is a fairly mild hurt compared to what many of us are carrying so this situation may or may not be a hot button for you. But can you see from this simple example that we are often making assumptions on a global scale with everyone in our lives all the time?

We have expectations of what should happen. And when our expectations are met, it’s almost just like: “Of course.” But when they are not met, we become disappointed and upset: “They should know better!”

In other words, we can make ourselves miserable holding others accountable to do what we think they should be doing. This is trying to manage others. This is trying to control.

We become mentally out of our business. Because can we ever, EVER control others?

I want to review Katie’s framework for the 3 Types of Business:

  1. My business
  2. Your business
  3. God’s business (like natural disasters and things out of everyone’s control)

The reason I love the concept of #RadicalResponsibility is because it’s about 2 things:

  • Taking 100% ownership of the things you can change
  • Relinquishing the need to control how others show up in the world

The 3 types of business speak directly to the second thing, above. When we have ideas about how other people should act, what they should say, how they should call us on our birthday, WE ARE OUT OF OUR BUSINESS.

We simply cannot EVER control that. Even if we talked to them every day for a week TO REMIND THEM of our birthday, that it’s coming up, how excited we are, telling them how much we are looking forward to their birthday call … WE STILL cannot control whether they call or not!

And when we have expectations for others and they are not met, WE are the ones left reeling. We are the ones upset, disappointed and not feeling good enough.

Expectations can get us in trouble.

I always have trouble having this conversation with clients because well, expectations are an expectation. We think, “There needs to be expectations! We’re married for goodness sake!”

But here’s the thing: this is the difference between letting someone else show up in the world as-is versus trying to control them. Should we have expectations for our partners? It might be hard to prevent putting expectations on them, but I think when we get too attached to those expectations, we are often let down. Besides, they are a different individual, so by definition they won’t do things exactly like we do. The only option you have is understanding and empathy.

That, or leave, if your goal is peace and happiness and effectiveness.

Furthermore, think about it from your perspective. Could you not see an instance when you might forget your friend’s birthday?

I forgot my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary last year, after literally thinking about it nonstop for months: “Jill, IT’S THEIR ANNIVERSARY! THE BIG ONE! DON’T FORGET THEIR ANNIVERSARY!” And guess what I did? I was on a hike with my in-laws in Portugal and it completely slipped my mind. I didn’t remember until 3 days later! I hate that I forgot, but at the same time, I did forget (reality).

Luckily, my parents are understanding and got it. They forgave me right away and let me off the hook. I was so completely grateful for that. What if instead my mom decided she was pissed and took it like I didn’t love her or care about her? Not only would I be devastated, but it would be completely untrue.

So, can you see that in the interest of not bringing about self-created misery, you have two choices:

  • Let people do what they do and show up as they do, giving feedback as able but ultimately being detached from what they do and how they do it (thereby staying mentally OUT of their business)
  • Decide that you only want to be friends with people who will never ever forget your birthday and tell these two who forgot because well, whatever happened, they might have been hiking through Portugal, to GTFO.

It’s literally that simple: accept people for who they are (and who they like that they are) OR move on (which would be your action step). No judgment about what you choose, you are free to do whatever you’d like, but for your peace’s sake, I suggest at least working on being open to the former.

It’s simple, but not easy. It’s a practice.

Expectations, resentment, grudges, disappointment, management of other’s behavior, etc., it’s all an attempt to control outcomes. It’s being out of our business.

And when we are in someone else’s business, no one is there holding ours down.

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