The purpose of a contract is to set forth reasonable expectations. The question is, “how do we determine what is reasonable?”
James Hayes recently had a coaching session with a client who was disappointed with the service she received from a contracted company. She had agreed to and paid for a standard of service that did not meet her expectations. Although her expectations were realistic and the company felt they could meet them, the end result was what she had been sold. She brought this situation up in her coaching session because she was having trouble moving past this experience. She was stuck holding onto a picture in her mind of how things should have been.
From a practical point of view, the client took the necessary action. She canceled service and investigated legal recourse. Although there was redress available she was still experiencing intense anger, anxiety, and negative emotions. The problem stemmed from the impractical point of view that she continued to maintain. In her mind, she continued to play a movie of the way she felt things should have happened.
One of the basic elements of a contract is mutual consent. That means that both parties have agreed to specific terms. The terms of the contract set an expectation for the desired outcome. When a company does not perform as contracted, it is possible to move forward by accepting the situation as is or by adjusting your expectations.
Keep in mind that every situation is variable. There are some situations when you hold up your end of the deal, but the other party does not. Though it is not your fault and it may seem unfair to just “let it go”, that may be the best course of action. How you handle this experience of failed expectations will depend on the situation and context.
To determine when you should take action and when you should just move on, define your goal. Ask yourself what you want to see as the outcome of the situation. Identify the different actions you might take and the results they would produce, which are the most appropriate? If you protest, will the results then meet your expectations? If you accept things as they are, is that the most valuable, least costly way to move forward?
Sometimes you need to take a step back and examine the reason your expectations were not met. Perhaps one or both parties did not share their expectations. In this case, protesting would be futile. Appropriate action would be to share your assumptions so that expectations are understood. However, if the expectations were clearly laid out, as in our coaching example, then confronting the situation may be the healthiest thing to do. In either situation, a collaboration is formed that changes the relationship and expectations.
The client in our example had chosen an appropriate path of action. She was unhappy that the service did not meet her expectations and she sought redress. Despite her actions, mentally she could not move forward. She was frustrated and the situation was distracting her from more important things in life. The shift in her thinking came when James suggested that there are two universes, one being the real world and the other being the one in her mind. The universe she had created in her mind was allowing her to maintain her anger and frustration while preventing her from living in the real world.
By holding onto your expectations and replaying how things should have been you are essentially choosing to ignore the reality of what actually happened. Replaying the situation is almost like saying that your fantasy of what should have happened is more real than what actually happened. When what should have been is more important to you than what actually happened, you cannot move forward. Why? Because mentally you must resist and reject reality in order for your expectations (and anger and frustrations) to persist. This is what was causing an extended period (weeks) of anger and angst experienced by the client.
Reframe The Situation
The critical shift of transcending your expectations comes when you are able to reframe the situation. You must examine what you are holding onto and how it’s serving you to imagine what should have been. When the disappointment and frustration you initially felt continues, you need to ask yourself if you want to perpetuate those feelings.
It is important to know when you should engage in a process. Sometimes it’s good to believe certain expectations should be met. Before taking action, take some time to truly be in the reality without your expectations so you can come from a place of consciousness and clarity. After you’ve done everything possible, if you are still spending your mental effort replaying a scenario that isn’t going to change, then it’s time to move forward. Although it may seem unfair, sometimes your expectations are detrimental to your well-being.
Learn to reflect on your imagination and expectations so they don’t become more real than reality. When you hold onto how things should have been, you are essentially arguing the case that what you had planned was right, and reality got it wrong. You can make this argument indefinitely but it won’t change reality because reality is always right. Your expectations have no bearing on the result. The only bearing they have is on your state of mind. After you have decided upon and taken appropriate action, give yourself permission to let go of expectations and accept (and therefore empower) your reality.