Skip to main content

5 minute read

Throughout our client engagements this summer, I have started to see a trend emerge.

Whether it was in our workshop on Emotional Intelligence, Communication and Behavior Styles, Accountability Circles, Generational Leadership (with a Millennials Focus) or Probing Skills… there was a moment in each class where a lightbulb went off over everyone’s head.

It happens right after I said something like “Even if it seems obvious, just re-clarify the expectation. Every question that seeks clarity closes the expectation and reality gap. Disappointment, conflict, frustration, entitlement and all sorts of other ugly things thrive in the gap. So even if it seems obvious, say something like “I know it may seem obvious but I just want to confirm that….”

Let’s take “Will you be home for dinner?” as an example. What are your options for a response?

  1. yes– okay, let’s assume that you know dinner is always at 7:30. This means you’ll be there. If you show up at 7:40 do you know if thats in the “grace period”? What happens if there’s horrible traffic and you don’t get home until 9:00? What will the consequence be of not closing the expectation and reality gap?
  2. Seek more information– Do you know what time dinner is? Here in Atlanta, I prefer to eat dinner between 6:30 and 7:00… but in New York, most people don’t eat until 8:30 or 9:00 pm… so when is dinner happening? What is the grace window? 15 minutes late? Is it okay to be early? if something goes awry and you’re going to miss dinner entirely (caught at work, traffic, etc) how early and often do you need to keep the other person informed of the timeline? When is the cut off for making it in time for dinner and you need to stop somewhere on your way home and get your own dinner?
  3. Share your understanding of the situation and confirm that tracks with their expectation. “I hope to be! If dinner is at 7:30 like it usually is, then I’ll plan to leave here by 7. If I get held up or traffic will make me more than 15 minutes late, I will call you.”

It may seem obvious, but I would recommend either strategy #2 or #3. It doesn’t take long to clarify or confirm, but can help to ease stress later. It helps to know what the expectation is or set the appropriate expectations. On one side, it helps minimize disappointment, confusion, frustration. On the other, it provides a baseline in which you can hold someone accountable, set a standard of performance, or ensure quality is being maintained.

Here are some other examples of phrases which would lend themselves to some clarification:

  • Can you follow up with Customer A?
    • In what time frame?
    • In what way (phone, text, email, invoice)?
    • Who else needs to be copied?
    • How urgently do we need a response from them?
    • Any context or new information I need to be aware of before following up?
  • We need to really deliver on this deck for the meeting next week.
    • How does “really deliver” differ from our normal powerpoint decks?
    • Is that higher quality? more slides? more detail? more visualization?
    • Does that impact a due date? Do you want to see it farther in advance of the meeting?
    • Does a different set of people need to review it before the meeting?
    • What about this meeting has you feeling like we need to “really deliver”?
  • We need to enter 3 new leads per day into our CRM
    • By what time every day? or is that 15 a week and it can be 5 some days and 2 other days?
    • What kind of leads? Do they need to differ in geography, scope, or industry?
    • Is there a template for the detail we need to enter in for the leads?
    • Is there a naming convention, qualifying tool, or any other aspect for the lead that is also necessary?
    • Who is we?
  • It’s hard to make Presidents Circle at this company.
    • Is that because the qualifications are extreme?
    • Do you think that because you’ve worked really hard and not made it? or worked really hard and have made it?
    • Do you have any advice on how to achieve President’s Circle?
    • What do the people who make it do differently than everyone else?

As a millennial, I love a good “Why?” question, and tend to ask them even when it’s obvious. Worst case, we confirm what I already knew and have re-established the baseline and agreement.

Clear expectations setting and over-clarifying produces trust, accountability, permission, empowerment, and quality.

Where do you need to close the expectation and reality gap? Start with something that maybe you think is obvious or an “of course we do that” statement and make sure the other person knows its equally obvious and assumed.

Here are some “of course” statements I’ve heard recently that I recommended were re-clarified with the other person.

  • Of course we get back to the customer within 24 hours with an update.
  • Of course it takes longer than a year to get promoted within our company.
  • Of course we need to provide a pre-read to the Quarterly Business Review.
  • Of course they should share the slides from the meeting before the end of the day.
  • Of course you don’t call your boss after 9:00 pm
  • Of course we are bringing them value
  • Of course it’s the customer support rep’s job to follow up on any open cases.
  • Of course no news is good news.


Let’s over clarify, reconfirm, or maybe articulate an expectation for the first time this fall. Work to close the expectation and reality gap this week by reconfirming something around modes of communication, timelines, outcomes, standards of excellence, or working style preferences.

Author Doreen Linneman

More posts by Doreen Linneman