The Following excerpt is content from John Cameron’s upcoming book
Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results
© John A. Cameron, 2016
MODULE 1: Setting Expectations
Make Fewer Promises: Keep All of Them
Once Expectations are set it is virtually impossible to change them
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he tells a story about two math classes at the US Air Force Academy. A math instructor is called in and told he is being assigned a class that’s going to be tough to teach. His new class is filled with students who aren’t very good at math. The instructor is told not to share the class’s weakness with anyone, other instructors, certainly not the students, not even family and friends. He has to be careful not to wound he egos of the future fighter jocks and leaders of the US Air Force. He is told he must do the best he can with the limited material he has to work with.
At the end of the course the class did pretty much how he expected-measurably a little worse than average.
Another, luckier instructor is pulled in and congratulated. Why? Because he is being granted the gift of a superior group of math students to work with-above average-one of the best math classes the Academy has ever seen. He is told to keep his joy private. He isn’t allowed to share his good fortune with other instructors and certainly not his students. Students at the Air Force Academy already have pretty good egos. He was instructed not to help the academy cadets heads get any bigger by telling them how superior they were. He simply has to do his best to make sure these gifted students live up to their vast potential.
At the end of the course this superior class did a little better than he expected. The class was measurably above the average score of similar math classes and far above the inferior class his peer had the misfortune to teach.
Here’s the rub. Both classes, the inferior one and superior one, were statistically very close in their ability. There was no ‘superior’ class. There was no ‘inferior’ class. The two instructors, and their classes, one fortunate, the other not so much, had been subjects of an experiment. This experiment worked. The un-communicated expectations of an instructor made one classroom full of smart people dumber at math while another instructor’s un-communicated expectations made a room full of smart people even better at math.
If un-communicated expectations can have this effect, what is the power of carefully planned, repeatedly practiced, perfectly communicated, and passionately delivered expectations on an individual or a group?
Were the expectations in the Air Force Academy experiment really un-communicated? What effect did the tone in the instructors’ voices, the set of their shoulders, their facial expressions, and the pace of their step do to set expectations often and consistently? What kind of expectations have you been setting without ever opening your mouth? We get what we expect. Be conscious of your seemingly unconscious expectations. (Search literature for the “Oak School Experiment.”)
If you would like another example of the power of expectations, research the history of the four-minute mile and Roger Bannister. He broke a barrier, running the mile in under four-minutes, that was thought to be beyond the physical limits of human speed and endurance. Before he broke the four-minute barrier, no one else in the history of mankind had ever run a four-minute mile. Once Roger Bannister broke the record and within 46 days someone beat his time! He had changed the world’s expectations of what was possible for human middle distance runners. Once he ran that mile in under four minutes other people thought, If he can do it, I can do it! And they did!
Brain scientists using an MRI say they can observe expectations delivered upon by a release of dopamine. When expectations are dashed there is anger, confusion and depression. Example-You expect to get a bonus and get it, and good dopamine is released. When you have low expectations and they are radically exceeded there is a tremendous release of dopamine.
Health outcomes mirror expectations. We are what we expect. I’m sure you have all heard of the placebo effect. One group of people is given real medicine, the other a sugar pill. Both groups believe they are getting medicine and both groups improve.
If we go into a good restaurant expecting a decent meal and get a great meal, our expectations are exceeded and we are happy. If we go into a great restaurant and get a decent meal we are disappointed.
Opening exercise classroom setting:
In your small groups discuss times when your expectations have been exceeded. Focus on how you felt when your expectations were exceeded. If you are working on this course on your own, list and write a short essay on times in your life when your expectations were exceeded, focusing on how you felt when your expectations were exceeded. Make sure you focus on very specific events. Here are examples of exceeded expectations from my own life.
Going to a movie, The Next Three Days, and having it be much better than I was led to expect by critics and friends.
The first time I ate at In-N-Out Burger.
Hiring a new employee, Renee, expecting average performance and having her be above those expectations in work ethic, attention to detail, her ability to get along with other people and in productivity.
Small Group Discussion:
Open Discussion Large Group: Share Stories
In your small groups discuss times when you have had expectations/hopes dashed, focusing on how you felt. If you are working on your own, list these times and then write a short essay about an important time in your life when your expectations were dashed. Focus on how you felt. Make sure you focus on very specific events. Here are some examples from my own life.
1. Starting my first business after my corporate career expecting success with my great flagship product and having my target market-the newspaper and shopper business-virtually disappear.
2. Watching Lord of the Rings and thinking two hours in they should have called it Bored With the Rings
Small Group Discussion:
Large Group Discussion:
1. Once expectations are set it is virtually impossible to change them. This is why car dealers put a sticker price on a car. Once you have seen a $27,995 MSRP it is very hard to stray far from that price. This idea is critical in negotiating and is called anchoring. Once you expect a friend or associate to behave in a certain way, you look for clues that support your expectations and don’t see clues that might show something else. You give people input that drives them to produce the outcome you expect.
2. Expectations are one of the most important factors in outcome. Reminder: the story from the Air Force Academy, the Oak School experiment, the Placebo Affect.
3. When we fail to set expectations in our interactions with others, then the other person sets the expectation. This is especially important in leadership, supervision and management, and most especially in relationships.
4. Non-verbal communications have more power in setting expectations that verbal.
5. Turnover in organizations, relationships and friendships is directly affected by properly set expectations. When people are asked during exit interviews why they left a company the number one answer is ‘The job wasn’t what I expected.’ Is this an accurate answer? Isn’t the real answer, ‘The job didn’t live up to my expectations?’ If the job exceeded their expectations, chances are they would have stayed and thrived. This is one reason why it is so important to set expectations lower than the coming reality with any new hire, or new relationship.
How can we make sure that we properly set expectations?
Question: In a typical work environment in the United States, how much more information would people like to have compared to what they do have to feel as if they know enough to simply do their jobs?
In the workplace, people would like to have ten times the information they currently have in order to feel as if they have enough information to simply do their jobs.
Information is sent and received in many environments. One of the most common, effective, and certainly the most personal, is a face-to-face environment.
When all three communications medium are available-body language, tone and words-the relative power of each medium is:
Body Language 55%
These numbers represent the consistency of message and the likability of the messenger.
Source: Albert Mehrabian (born 1939 in Armenian family in Iran, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA)
What in the heck does that mean, John? It means this: When you are in a face-to-face conversation and someone delivers information (a message) to you, their likability is conveyed by their body language and tone. When you like them, you are open to their words. This also means that messages that are consistent across all media available are the most effective.
Story from Tipping Point about why Doctors get sued
How many of you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point? In the book Mr. Gladwell tells the story of a study determining why doctors get sued. Why study doctors getting sued you might ask? Isn’t the reason that doctors are sued obvious? Doctors get sued when they make mistakes, don’t they? No. There is no correlation between how many mistakes Doctors make and how many times they are sued.
After researchers discovered there was no correlation between the number of mistakes by doctors and the number of lawsuits, they looked at other variables. They looked at the time the doctor spent with the patient. Again they saw no correlation. The researchers eventually made an assumption that the doctors’ interaction with the patient was key. The researchers videotaped doctors and patients. After they did this, it became apparent that Doctors who were not sued created a relationship with the patient as a person. These doctors interacted with patients as humans rather than seeing them as an injury, disease or set of symptoms.
After looking at five minutes of videotape, the people observing the doctor/patient experience could detect which doctors were going to be sued with 85% accuracy. The experimenters then wondered how little video they needed to observe to discover the building of a relationship between doctor and patient. They cut the video down from five minutes, to two minutes to one minute and finally to 30 seconds. Even with 30 seconds of video they could tell whether a doctor was going to be sued or not 85% of the time.
The researchers wondered if an audio recording, absent any visual cues, would give them the same quality of information. Yep. And they could hear the relationships in five minutes, three, two, one-and again in 30 seconds of simply listening to the doctor and patient talking.
One bright experimenter thought this connection went even deeper. This experimenter took the audio and electronically scrubbed it so that the words could not be understood-only the tone of voice. The researchers discovered that by listening to 30 seconds of audio consisting only of the tone in a doctor/patient conversation they could detect with 85% accuracy, nearly two standard deviations, which doctors were going to get sued and which were not.
The lesson: Whenever possible have all the cues available when you communicate. These important cues are, in order of descending importance, body language, tone, and words. Whenever possible have face-to-face communication. Understand that as each powerful cue is eliminated, the chances of miscommunication are increased. How many of us have heard of people misinterpreting an email or a text? How many of us have had to repair a relationship that was damaged by an email or text because the email or text was misinterpreted, or worse, we didn’t take the care we should have when preparing the text or email?
Small Group Discussion:
Discuss times when someone communicated with you and you felt there was a disconnect between their tone, body language and words. If you are working on your own, list and then write a short essay on times when you have been on the sending or receiving end of such a disconnect.
This following exercise is one that is frequenting used in acting classes. If you are comfortable doing this exercise with another person, do so. If not, move off by yourself and do the exercise on your own. You can also get 75% of the benefit of practice by accurately visualizing yourself doing these things in your mind.
Exercise 1: Have a conversation with someone, telling them they are doing great and you really like them while making your body language, facial expressions and tone deliver the message that they are doing a terrible job.
Exercise 2: Tell someone they are doing a great job and have your facial expressions, tone and body language support the words.
Small Group Discussion: How did this process made you feel?
Upon reflection, I am sure we can find examples of this disconnect in many parts of our lives.
A company tells you how important you are as a customer, but provides virtually no customer support.
A person with whom you share a relationship tells you they care for you but never has time for you.
A boss tells you how important you are to the organization, but only interacts with you when you have done something wrong.
In an organization, family or relationship:
1. Set expectations in the interview and hiring process. The same rules apply to relationships. If the relationship is a romantic one, set expectations on the first date, which is basically a job interview. The first date is an interview for a job as boyfriend or girlfriend. In a family setting, any new addition to the mix, marriage, birth, adoption, is an opportunity to consciously set expectations. Set these expectations on the low side so that the work, relationship or family experience exceeds expectations.
2. Have a wonderful living, breathing policy and procedure manual that clearly tells employees the must-haves, like-to-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves. In your business, which activities will result in on-the-spot-termination? In your family, or in relationships, please spell out important things in writing. Example: What are the rules about credit card debt or drinking?
3. Let people know precisely how often you will communicate. Tell people what media you will use when you communicate with them. Make sure the media is in alignment with the other person’s style whenever possible. Practice to become an expert in that medium. Make sure to use media that equals the importance of the conversation. Example: A text is not an appropriate way to break up with someone.