The fine art of setting expectations

The fine art of setting expectations

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If we stepped outside tomorrow to a 52 degree day, we’d race back inside and put on a coat.

If we opened the door in January to the same temperature, we might race back into the house to shed that same coat.

It’s all about expectations.

Our daughter figured that out several years ago. Gone are the days when she tells us she thinks she did well on a test. She doesn’t want us to ask, “What happened?” or hear us say, “Oh, but you thought you did well on that test.”

Instead, she often tamps down our expectations, indicating that we’d better brace for the equivalent of the academic cold. If she does better than expected, she won’t have to contend with questions. If she met the lowered expectations, she can say that, even if she didn’t do well, she can take consolation in knowing how she performed.

Yes, relationships are all about managing those expectations.

Let’s take a quick look at President Trump. He’s a shoot-from-the-tweet president. He frequently misspells words, gets facts wrong here and there, and attacks his opponents, his allies and anyone in between according to his mood.

Has he done the same thing as our daughter? Is he resetting our expectations? Is he pleased to redefine the notion of a modern-day president?

If, and when, he seems levelheaded, deliberate and considerate, is he climbing over a bar he reset for himself, giving us a chance to applaud the manner in which he interacted with a public prepared for a stream of anger and disdain?

Relationships, as Harry from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” knew all too well, are also about setting expectations. When Harry (played by Billy Crystal) is sharing one of his many philosophies of life with Sally (Meg Ryan), he suggests that he never takes a girlfriend to the airport early in a relationship because he doesn’t want her to ask why, later in the relationship, he doesn’t take her to the airport anymore.

Some people’s jobs, like stock market analysts, meteorologists and oddsmakers, involve setting expectations.

Built into their forecasts, meteorologists often leave the back door open, in case they’re wrong. As in, “It probably won’t rain, but there’s a 15 percent chance of precipitation today.”

While that forecast is innocuous enough, it leaves a small measure of flexibility in case the weather people missed a heavy band of rain clouds from their Doppler models, which happened recently, leaving my wife disappointed and dripping wet at her office after trudging through an unexpected shower.

Of course, a meteorologist who predicted rain every day in anywhere but Ketchikan, Alaska, where the locals say it rains 400 days a year, wouldn’t last long, as people would bristle at carrying unnecessary umbrellas through the brilliant sunshine

Many years ago, my wife and I went to see a movie. When we got to the theater, the film was sold out.

Instead of turning around, we bought tickets to a film on which we hadn’t read any reviews and knew nothing. We wound up watching “Shakespeare in Love.” We thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because we had no expectations.

Perhaps the most difficult expectations to meet, or exceed, are our own. Raising the bar for anything — the taste of the food we cook, our performance during a presentation or our ability to stay calm in a crisis — involves risk. Then again, once we clear our new expectations often enough, we know what we can expect of ourselves and can move on to bigger challenges. The rewards, even if we never tell anyone how much more we accomplished than we expected, seem well worth the risk.

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