Work Culture

6 Tactics To Handle Unrealistic Expectations At Work 

By on July 2, 2019

It’s not unheard of for managers to ask a lot from their employees. Often employees do their best to accommodate what is asked of them, but that’s not always enough.

But at times, managers cross the line and start asking a little too much of their direct reports. This is the beginning of a world filled with dangerous, unrealistic expectations. If corrective actions are not taken from your end, it’ll only get worse from here on.

We’ve written this article, to help employees in these tricky situations. Effective techniques and strategies for handling unreasonable expectations? Those are worth their weight in gold.

Expectations: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Both manager and employee enter the workplace with certain expectations. Much of what goes into the manager-employee relationships revolves around these expectations.

No one can dispute that managers need to see a certain level of performance from the employees. All too often, yet, managers tend to go overboard (often without knowing) and demand more from them than is reasonable or realistic. And we see this in teams of all sizes.

Honest Expectations

First off, it’s important to note the importance of honesty in the “expectations” game. Honesty toward your manager, and even more importantly, to yourself.

For some folks, it can be all too tempting to raise the flag of “immaturely high expectations.” This is where honest self-criticism comes into play. Ask yourself (and honestly try to answer) whether what’s being asked of you is actually out of the world of possibility. If it is an unrealistic expectation, you have to set the records straight – more on that below.

Setting the Stage: Why Do Unrealistic Expectations Happen?

Yes, some managers are draconian and expect too much from their employees. There’s no denying that horrible bosses exist – it’s a fact of life.

But, more often than not, expectations that are not feasible stem from a lack of honest as well as clear communication. Think back to the best manager you’ve ever had – were you and him on the same page? Did your relationship allow you to voice when you felt overwhelmed?

The effective managers are the ones that encourage an open, transparent workplace. Where the employee feels comfortable saying, “Hey, this doesn’t seem like something we can handle right now. Can we reassess?”

But there is a common element in all those managers that consistently demand the impossible. Almost all of them ignore the inputs from their employees or direct reports.

As an employee, here are 6 techniques to handle not so reasonable expectations at work.

1: Don’t Be a “Yes Man”

Unrealistic expectations occur when managers and employees are not on the same page. With that in mind, it’s crucial that you think before you answer. It takes a serious amount of bravery to say “no” (or something more diplomatic) to your manager, but that bravery may work wonders.

Often managers are disconnected from the day-to-day operations that frontline employees thrive in. If you blindly accept extra tasks (knowing full well they are unreasonable), you are supporting that disconnect. Taking that not so reasonable expectation, bottling it up, and expecting it to end well is not a recipe for success.

Tip: Limit your plate to what you know you can do well. Managers are often disconnected from what you do on a daily basis. Do your best to communicate your timelines to your manager as quickly as possible.

2: Ask Yourself: Is This Task “That” Bad (Seriously)?

An “unrealistic” task can take on very different meanings for managers or employees. As an employee, it’s vital that you ask yourself—and answer honestly—whether a task is truly not reasonable. It’s equally important to determine why you feel this way.

  • Do you lack the time to handle the new task?
  • Any necessary training or knowledge to deal with a new topic is missing from your skillset?
  • Is there a need of additional resources—staff, software, and so on—to perform?

If you can check the box on one or more of the above items, it’s a solid indicator that the fault of this unreasonable expectation is not on you.

The key element here is determining why a task feels unrealistic. Remember, the workplace is all about solutions – the more practical, actionable information you have, the better.

Tip: There’s a difference between unrealistic and inconvenient. Reserve unrealistic for the realm of “not going to happen; if it does, it’s a miracle.” Inconvenient? Think of inconvenient as difficult, awkward, and problematic — but not impossible.

3: Ask Yourself: Why Is My Manager Doing This?

Chances are that your manager is a normal person doing normal things. No, your manager probably doesn’t have it “out” for you (though it may feel that way!). Take the time to sit down and see if there’s an obvious reason why your manager is asking the world of you.

Loaded down with a new, seemingly impossible task? Assigned a duty that you just don’t see happening?

It’s a managerial tactic as old as time — stoke the fire and see what happens. Some managers love to see how their employees adapt to new, difficult situations. The philosophy is simple: force someone out of their daily routine and see how they adapt. Maybe they are trying to see if you are fit for the promotion.

Now, is this happening every time your manager tasks with you something difficult? Not necessarily, but it ties into Step 1: is this task actually not feasible in the given deadline or is merely inconvenient?

4: Ask Around: Can Your Coworkers Help?

If your manager is breathing down your neck, you’re probably not the only one. Unrealistic expectations come in sets: chances are that your peers are experiencing something similar.

The workplace is no place to bottle up. You’re surrounded (well, hopefully) by like-minded professionals. Use them!

Ask your coworkers for advice on the issue you’re facing. See if they have insight or recommendations on how to move forward.

Tip: Be precise and quiet. Reach out to whatever qualified coworker you feel is most appropriate and work from there. Make your request quietly and praise your coworker loudly: it pays off!

5: Reach Out to Your Manager

Reaching out to your manager is, without doubt, the best way to manage differences in expectations.

It’s also the most difficult.

There is nothing easy about talking with your boss about workplace expectations. It’s difficult—there’s no getting around that—so don’t feel discouraged if the mere idea seems intimidating.

As a general rule, if you feel your manager is loading you up with too much work, you should follow the following principles:

  • Develop an action plan. Managers respond well to action plans, even if those plans fall through. Navigating the world of unrealistic expectations is often an exercise in stating solutions. If you feel overwhelmed, take the time to jot down an action plan that shows your timeline to success. Ignore (or craft) the specifics if need be. Important thing is to give an actionable plan to your manager that outlines the best way to move forward.
  • Speak from a position of authority. All too often, your manager will act from a position of supreme authority. The more confidence and expertise you exude, the better. Show your manager why they hired you — don’t be afraid to offer alternative solutions to a specific problem. All too often managers tend to act like they are the only ones with any experience in your industry – show them wrong!
  • Speed is everything. Seriously – the earlier you communicate your needs, the better. If your manager is someone who is (innocently) oblivious, a simple email may be all you need. This can guarantee extra time, resources, or training to complete a given task. Speak up now, not later: the longer you put it off, the worse it’ll be.

6: Follow the Timeline

In the end, it’s really, really, hard for any manager to argue with a well-defined timeline. This is where a proactive approach really pays off. The more you force your manager to agree to your timeline, the better.

Take the time to sit down and establish a tangible action plan that your manager will sign off on. The goal here is to establish a timeline that will keep both you and your manager accountable. If you can present a timeline that was met with approval from both you and your manager, you’re that much better off.

It’s hard to say no to your manager. But take a sensible approach, offer solutions & follow the above steps. And you’ll find that managing unrealistic expectations at work becomes a lot easier.

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