Images by John 'K'

Life as seen through my lens…

Setting expectations…..

Really wasn’t too sure how to categorise this one, as it’s in direct response to something within the family, but the underlying message has a much wider scope….
One of the things people need to learn in life is the ability and more importantly the necessity to correctly set expectations. This applies to anything. In my line of work it can apply to things like having a support engineer set the expectation that while working on a problem for a customer, they will give regular updates on progress so the customer isn’t left feeling frustrated and thinking that nothing is happening with their problem (and more importantly, making sure that they deliver on that expectation, even if the update is a ‘no change’ message). It can apply to a development engineer setting the correct expectation for what software release a fix to a problem is to be delivered in, allowing customers (and people working with them) to correctly plan for the availability of that fix. It can apply to a colleague setting the right expectations about when a requested piece of work will be delivered, as there could well be a whole host of up-stream activities dependant on the completion of that one small piece of work. There are many many other examples of how setting correct expectations is a necessity in the workplace. The important thing about setting correct expectations is that at the end of the day, there is a cost implication involved.
It’s the same thing in family life. Families operate like businesses. Not all reasons for setting correct expectations in a family situation may have an obvious direct financial implication, there is always some ‘cost’ associated with them.
Some examples of where setting ‘correct expectations’ in a family context helps to prevent problems are….
When going out, leave details of where you are going, who whom, and when you will be back.
When asked if you have homework, be honest with the answer, and if you do, make sure it gets done.
When asked how long it’ll be before you are ready to go (when others are waiting for you), give a sensible answer (rather than ‘just a minute’ when you know you’ll take at least 5).
If you say you’ll return something you’ve borrowed, actually return it when you said you would.
If you are planning a party for friends, make sure you know how many people are coming.
The reason for me writing this entry really came up as a result of the last example….
Yesterday was the birthday of one of my daughters and she graduates today, so she wanted to hold a party. Fine – we had no problem with that. She did however leave it a bit late to make this decision, and issued invitations about a week before the date of the party. Now given the time of year (end of school, graduation, etc.), it was likely that a lot of students would be holding parties at around the same time, and so attendance (especially given the late issuance of invitations) was likely to be relatively low.
We were catering for the party, and so wanted to have an idea of how much food to get in for this party – we didn’t want to get in too little, but we didn’t want to be swimming in left-overs (interesting concept) either. Money is a bit tight at the moment, and so we can’t afford to spend money on stuff that is just going to be thrown away (and even if we could, I still think that is wasteful and so would rather not do it). Some of the stuff for the party was going to be purchased in advance (stuff that can be easily stored), and some was going to be purchased fresh (the stuff not so easy to store for an extended period). Also, some of what was requested was stuff that as a family we wouldn’t normally eat. As such we wanted to be sure that we didn’t buy excessive quantities, but that we’d have enough to feed those that turned up.
The whole thing around catering for a group could spawn another entry directed at someone else (about how not everyone has my desire to eat everything in front of them, and how when putting on a buffet, not everyone will want one of everything that’s out, and how not to buy too much stuff), but putting that aside (as I don’t have the balls to write that one  ), knowing how many people will attend avoids there being way more food than is needed.
So if the expectation is set that 40 will be there, that is what will be catered for. If the reality is that only 15 will be there, then the overspend is 166%. In the land of business, a product that costs more to produce than you are able to sell it for is a product that can break a company can cause it to go out of business. In a family, spending money on stuff that isn’t going to be used directly impacts the ability for that money to be used for other things. In the situation that drove me to dump all of this into a blog entry, the amount we spent on food that will now go to waste could have paid for at least 4 family trips to the cinema, 3 family meals out, or could have paid for at least 8 weeks of allowance for said daughter. Spun another way, it could have paid for drivers ed. classes and the cost of a student drivers permit, or it could have been reasonable contribution towards the cost of a pre-owned car. Instead, it’s money that has effectively been thrown away.
Now I know that we can’t hold all of this against our daughter – if people tell her that they are coming and then don’t turn up, there’s not a lot that we can do about that. Having said that however, with a little extra planning and forethought, some of the impact of this could have been negated. For example, if rather than giving an invite and just asking whether the person will turn up or not you ask them to return an RSVP slip, they are more likely to actually come. Asking them to complete an RSVP slip sets the expectation that there is an underlying reason why you want to know whether they’ll be there or not and that you need to gauge the number of people coming for some reason. Just asking them to be there sets the expectation that while it’d be nice for them to be there, there is no real impact if they don’t turn up. With this in mind, while the invitations were being designed I suggested that they have an RSVP slip, but this suggestion was not taken on-board by my daughter.
The fact that only a week was given between the invitations being given out and the date of the party meant that people would be more likely to have other commitments, but in an attempt to appear friendly, rather than saying that they can’t come were likely to say that they’ll try and be there. This is even more likely to happen if the party is pitched as a "just turn up – we don’t need to know if you are coming or not" type of event.
As such, it is really no surprise that given the time of year and the ‘last-minute’ issuing of invitations that the number of people turning up was significantly lower than the number of people who (according to our daughter) had said they were coming. A part of me also suspects that there was some inflation of the numbers in an attempt by our daughter to appear to us to have a big circle of friends given the number of times we’ve commented in the past about her reluctance to mix with strangers and the fact that she’d only been at the school for a year. If this was a contributing factor however, I don’t feel that this ‘inflation’ factor was as big as my wife believes it was.
So, while it may at face value seem unfair, I feel that there should be some sense of responsibility from our daughter, who was after all the organiser of the party. I want her to see that setting incorrect expectations has an impact, and I also want her to realise the impact that not fully thinking something through before implementing it has. Life is all about this. Every action has consequence. A well planned and implemented action with the right expectations set will have a pleasant consequence. A poorly planned and executed action with incorrect/inaccurate expectations will have an unpleasant consequence. Life is like that.
So…… especially given that funds are tight right now, I intend withholding a number of weeks of my daughter’s allowance to contribute towards the money we wasted. While this may seem harsh, this will bring home to her the financial implications of her actions and decisions. I’m not happy about doing this, as to some degree it feels like we are punishing our daughter for the actions of her friends (which is not our intent), but I do feel that with an appropriate level of thought and planning, a lot of what happened could have been avoided, and as such feel that while uncomfortable, this is appropriate. The impact to us will still be greater than the impact to her, but she is old enough that she should face the consequences of her actions, and it is time that I stop fully shielding her from the reality of life in the real world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: