Have you noticed that we come down harder on those for whom we have higher expectations? Whether it be a friend, co-worker, child or other family member, the higher the expectations the harder the punishment when expectations are not met.
This seems counter intuitive. There should be a bit of leniency when the majority of the time the person meets or exceeds our own belief in them. What causes us to react more harshly than deserved? It is in fact this very same expectation of them that causes their downfall. But let’s be clear about who is defining the expecration. Are they requiring infallibility of themselves or have we placed that on them.
Let’s use co-workers as an example. Let’s say you have a co-worker who is always late, sloppy, and generally below average in their work. Then one day they actually show up on time and complete their given assignments in a moderately tolerable way. We are impressed and say so. What we have just done is accepted their base line and only given them a slightly higher target to which they need to strive.
On the other hand if you have a great employee who always turns in well done work and dresses smartly and is continually punctual, the one day they come in harried, late, and with an incomplete assignment we immediately get on them for their poor performance. We let them know that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, from them. We have a double standard and if it’s not obvious to us it will become obvious to those around us soon enough.
Now, let us bring the situation closer to home. If our child or husband or wife consistently shows us their good side with their behavior, demonstrations of love, high intelligence, whatever it may be, and then one day they are off, moody, distracted, inattentive, whatever the case, what is our response…complete understanding of course. Yeah, right. Immediately we take it as a personal attack. We forget our own less than stellar days and accuse and chastise. Instead of putting our own best forward we meet them where they are. Instead of lifting their spirits, bringing them comfort or happiness or just being there for them, we show our resentment and frustration. Now, no one is performing up to expectation.
So, the next time I try to impose expectations on someone else, let me first impose those expectations on myself.