Assumptions and expectations get even the best leaders in trouble. I was coaching a team recently where management “just knew all the team members knew the rules and the goal,” yet talking with the team members it was clear that management had not clearly defined its vision for success.

It is important for leaders to set the tone for two-way communication. Consider a statement as simple as “What are you thinking?” or “How can I help you?” They both seem tame enough, yet the first one assumes that they are thinking something and the second assumes they need help. So is that really communication without assumptions or expectations?

Ambiguity, assumptions, expectations, and contradictions exist everywhere in spite of our desire to be clear on what we envision. However clear and positive your intention may be, it can run smack into the well-entrenched assumptions or expectations of others. If that happens:

  • Stay calm. Breathe.
  • Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you, it’s them.
  • Listen carefully. Do not interrupt.
  • Use phrases that do not contain a belief such as “Tell me more?” in a non-emotional tone to find out more about the problem(s) and possible solution(s.)
  • You can accept what they say or acknowledge without accepting, your choice.
  • Express your respect for how they may feel that way.
  • Thank them and explain if and what action will be taken to resolve the misunderstanding.