Expectations abhor a vacuum

standing meeting

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” or so said Greek physicist-philosopher Parmenides in circa 485 BC. And I have to say, so do expectations.

The simple fact that is ignored or overlooked by many, many (nearly all) organisations is that if I (you) don’t set expectations for what I will won’t can can’t want to don’t want to do, then the person on the other side of the trade will just insert their own.

And then you’re in trouble. Because while I have control over my own expectations and the things I need to do to meet them, I have no control over yours. Zip. Nada. Big fat zero.

Sure I can ask you what yours are. But who knows what was going on when you said you wanted that thing you wanted. Tomorrow it’s likely to be different. Or maybe not. So I might occasionally luck out and manage to fluke meeting them. But more likely not. Much better to be in the driver’s seat of expectations.

So why do we find it so hard to set expectations well?

Setting expectations requires that I know what I can and can’t do, how I’ll do it, and why I want to. It requires that I be OK if some people don’t to like it. It requires me to be explicit and ditch the fluffy half promises. It requires me to take a stand, draw a kind of line in the sand.

When I talk about setting expectations, people universally get nervous about the idea of putting those kinds of lines down. And rightfully so. Get it wrong and I’m likely to end up breaking promises left, right and centre, and alienating my customers and ustomers alike in the process.

Expectations can be big “we won’t be evil” or they can be everyday “I’ll bring coffee” – they all matter, and it’s worth repeating that my ability to meet them matters most of all.

So here’s a question to consider when setting an expectation (of any size)…

Do I have the information and capital I need to set this expectation so I KNOW I can meet it?

Information – what, where, who, how, why.

Capital – time, people, money, community, influence.

Expectations abhor a vacuum. Take control of yours and your customers, ustomers and brand will thank you.

You might wonder what happens when the expectations I set run into the expectations you set and they don’t align? It’s a great question, check out the blog next week for my take on the answer.


Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].

See you next week with (your question here).

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. Follow her on Twitter.


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