“You be positive, I’ll be realistic.” Out of all the lines in Home Alone, this was the one I chose to quote throughout my childhood. I wouldn’t say I was pessimistic really I was pretty upbeat and the world’s cheerleader most days. It was more about, if you have low expectations your likelihood of being disappointed is low and if things surpass your expectations, sweet!
I would take this attitude with most things (if I’m being honest I still do on many things today) friends, work, relationships, the list is really endless:
“They probably don’t want me to come, but if someone happens to invite me, great!”
“I’m not going to get paid very much, the absolute minimum I would take is ____ so anything above that is a bonus!”
“He said he doesn’t have time to spend with me now so I’ll just wait to see if that changes later and if not, no big deal I’ll have gotten xyz done while I waited.”
See I told you, full of positivity just really ready to settle. Settling before anything’s even happened really.
I don’t think I’m the only one who does this and while I haven’t 100% cracked the code I think there are two things at work here; perfectionism and fear. If I have voiced to myself and/or others that my expectations are low I have a limited ability to get hurt or be rejected. I also decreased my odds of someone telling me that something I created, built, or I myself wasn’t worthy of praise, affirmation, or inclusion. Do you know what feeds that need to settle? Being right! There are more times than not that I’m not invited, or I didn’t get the raise, or I hadn’t been the priority so thank goodness I chose low expectations and set myself up to be ready, otherwise I would have been disappointed. Whew, good job me.
This only gets worse when you have a team depending on you.
“If all we do is clean out the one queue by the end of the day that will be good. Completing everything would be great but the one will get us by.”
“Don’t be surprised if he ‘politely hates’ the whole thing.”
“It just needs to be done, don’t worry about it being pretty.”
These are risky ideas to put out there. The intent, as it is with saying it about yourself is to temper expectations and acknowledge that we aren’t perfect and there is grace in that. Setting realistic expectations and extending grace are good and important things to do. You don’t want your people stressed or feeling like they failed if they don’t meet the goal.
A couple of things I’m reminding myself of.
Know what you want. Often times I don’t even know what I’m hoping or looking for. Do I actually want to go to that dinner that I’m sure I won’t get invited to? If not, why am I wasting any time even thinking about it? Do I know what I would want to do with time with my husband/friend/kids if I had it? Knowing I’ll wait for them is fine but being able to suggest something for us to do together not only sets a goal for me but also makes it more likely that I could pull them away from what they are currently doing.
Set boundaries, not just rock bottom. I am starting to think of things in terms of a negotiation. For example, if I was going to sell a snowmobile to someone I would know what the bare minimum I’m willing to accept is, what the top price I think I can get, and where I would most likely land in negotiations with the other person. The same should be true for what I’m looking for personally and professionally. I know I won’t work for less than $10/hour, the most I would anticipate the roll would pay is $15, and based on my level of experience I would expect I should closer to the higher end, maybe at $13. Maybe you know that based on your experience you’re really worth $17, what other things could you ask for since the cap is below what your skills are worth? This creates such a different mindset than just knowing your bare minimum, and its based objectively. (Also, this doesn’t just apply to money. Use the same logic for quality time with the husband. I need at least an hour with you, I want a full day, and based on the projects that need to be done and the upcoming fishing trip you have planned I am aiming for a full date night.)
All of this logic applies to your team but it gets even more important because you are setting the expectations. Its true that you don’t want to overly stress your people but you do want to give them a chance to stretch, grow, and show you what they are capable of. The key is the same as above, the bottom cannot stand on it’s own, but with individualized focus. You have to know each team member and determine what will motivate them best. For example, I have one person who is a great performer but gets stressed at any suggestion they look outside their comfort zone. I have another who would walk through walls if I said it was what we needed to do. There is yet another who will do the bare minimum regardless of how low the bar is set and how much I ask for more. I need to support them very differently. Scotty Scared needs to know I’m there for him no matter where he lands in the range and it is OK if they fall all the way to the bottom, even though he’s always exceeded. Excited Erica needs the full on aspiration and she’ll either hit or beat it. I just can’t overload her with menial work because that same ferocity is going into everything. Bottom of the Barrel Betty needs to have a “rock bottom” that is really closer to the middle because I’m getting no more than that. Your impact on the team is greater by sheer volume of work that can be touched so going in knowing what you want and setting the right boundaries is critical.