Expectations Are Toxic, Agreements Are Powerful

Have you ever had an expectation of someone that they didn’t live up to? The answer of course is yes. Probably hundreds if not thousands of times!  And if you’re like most people, you probably felt frustrated when your expectation was not met. 

But who was responsible for the frustration? YOU. Only ever you. You created the expectation. The people you have an expectation of have little or no awareness of what you expect. They are, in the vast majority of cases, innocently going about their business and doing their best to make a good job of it. Because your expectations are in your head, not theirs. 

If you reflect on the expectations you have held of others in the past, you may be surprised to realise that you really expected them to be mind-readers. To know what you expected just because you were thinking it. 

This can be a toxic situation and when prevalent in an organisation, it leads to a never-ending cycle of blame, complaints, low morale, and high employee turnover. This may occur between management and the people they manage, as well as between team-members at any organisational level. 

An agreement is very different. With an agreement, you clearly communicate what you want to the other person/s. You ask them if they can deliver what you want. And you wait for them to say yes. If they say yes, then you have created an agreement together, which is far more powerful than having an expectation. 

If they say no, this is just as powerful. Because then you can explore why they feel they can’t deliver what you would like, and ask them what they need to be able to deliver that. Whether it’s additional people , funding, and/or other resources. Through such a conversation you can understand each other’s situation much better. 

By talking through the challenges you both face, you stand in each other’s shoes and can see a bigger picture. Suddenly you are not the centre of the universe anymore, expecting everyone to tiptoe around you, catering to your ‘wants’ or moods. Now you can see the place you have as only one cog in the wheel of the larger organisational system that is producing something valuable for their customers. 

With that broader perspective,  you can truly SERVE. Now you can really help others. And you will feel the difference of having made a substantial positive difference in the lives of others. Both to those people that you create agreements with, as well as the higher quality service you will inevitably provide to your customers. 

This is how powerful agreements are. 

It’s also important to mention a scenario that may occur, which is actually another opportunity for service. Sometimes when you create agreements with people, they don’t stick to their part of the agreement. They don’t deliver what you want by the time they agreed they would. Or they deliver something that does not meet the standards you agreed to. 

Provided you have upheld your side of the agreement you made with them, this is a great opportunity for their growth. This is a coaching opportunity. Now you can GENTLY AND GENEROUSLY inquire into what was going on for them that prevented them from meeting their part of the agreement.   

It may be: “I just didn’t have enough time” or “I had so many other things to do that I never got around to it." It might be a pattern of perfectionism that keeps them from ever finishing anything! Whatever it was, you can be sure the pattern will be showing up in other parts of their life too.

This is where the art of coaching can be so effective. To constructively explore what is behind these limiting beliefs, to help the other person see that they are entirely thoughts of their own creation, and that they can reframe any limiting belief to an empowering and progressive perspective. To take ownership of patterns in their lives that are not serving them. And that it’s always their choice to do that. 


Then we see, as Michael Gerber so clearly expounded in the E-Myth idea, that our work in an organisation becomes not only an opportunity to serve customers with something of high value, but perhaps more importantly, it provides an opportunity for our own inner growth and development.1 To become more expansive and creative. To see work as an opportunity for freedom and play, rather than as a burden. 

This is why expectations are toxic and agreements are powerful. 

Which will you choose to live your life by? 

David McDermott