Danger Expectations Sign

“If you want to be happy, stop focusing on what you can’t control and instead choose to worry about what you can.”— Misti Burmeister

No matter how many times we hear “it’s not personal; it’s just business,” and no matter how well we understand the concept in theory, it’s hard to put into practice. For most of us, business can feel very personal.

However, when we put our egos aside and shift our expectations of others, we get the privilege of experiencing the gift inherent in the people who show up, leaving us feeling empowered rather than offended.

Consider this real-life example: Excited to finally be able to afford tailor-made shirts, James, a partner at a Baltimore law firm, decided to try on his new apparel in the restroom at his office (apparently, this tailor comes to you for fittings).

While James was trying on his new shirt, the managing partner, Dick, entered the restroom.  “What do you think about the company that makes that shirt?” asked Dick.

Before James could answer, Dick went into great detail about how his shirts were made at Joseph A Banks. As Dick raved about the superiority of his shirt manufacturer, James found his blood pumping and his irritation rising.

When James recounted the story to me, he was still pretty worked up about it. “Why did he ask the question if he didn’t want to hear my answer?” James asked.

The reality is that few people listen. People prefer to show how smart and right they are. It’s not personal, yet it’s incredibly difficult not to take it personally when it feels like an attack. In fact, the research on happiness points to “unmet expectations” as the No. 1 detractor of happiness.

James had previously shared with me that he wanted to build a stronger relationship with Dick. This would have been a great opportunity to ask Dick more about his experience at his fancy shirt-making company, learn more about his frame of reference, and find new ways to connect.

Instead, James’s unmet expectations got in the way, leaving him feeling offended and unhappy, when he could have walked away from the situation with something of value.

So, what to do about those pesky expectations?

If you want to be happy, stop focusing on what you can’t control (other people’s behavior) and instead choose to worry about what you can (your expectations). This is a far more empowering way to approach relationships.

Join the Conversation: How could shifting your expectations help strengthen relationships in your life?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

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