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  • Understanding the Role of Expectations in Conflict

    Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT

    Every party in a conflict has unmet expectations.  While you may think or feel a conflict is all about whatever the other person is or is not doing.  The first step towards a successful resolution is understanding what is going on for you that is creating this conflict.

    As Project Management Professionals (PMPs), we learn the critical importance of managing stake holder expectations.   “Managing” expectations though feels a bit like manipulation (which has some seriously negative connotations).  While it is important to understand another’s expectations, “managing” them is a far more difficult task.  Sometimes even an impossible task.  But in the world of projects, it’s an absolutely crucial task.

    I’ve been on both ends of this – as the customer of a project and as the project manager working with an extremely “unrealistic” customer.  In both situations, having a clear contract with very detailed descriptions of what is going to be delivered and when is the imperative to effectively “manage” expectations.  Continuing to review progress on milestone completions, having agreements about what will be accomplished by specific dates, having a plan on how risks and changes are being addressed, and keeping the lines of communication open with every stakeholder are the key activities of the Project Manager.  A well run project has all this going on – even though it may not be obvious to a casual observer.  A project in chaos most likely does not have this going on.   So if you’re involved in a project that appears to be running smoothly, realize that it’s far more than just “luck” that created this situation.

    But what stimulated me to write this and why right now?   We are in the midst of the holiday season.  And each of us has unique expectations of what we feel we should be experiencing during the holidays.  Quite often these expectations are not in alignment with what is really going on.  Take for example, if you have always done Thanksgiving with your immediate family, but this year that didn’t happen because you weren’t able to make it, or maybe one of your parents passed away.  You might be feeling out of sorts.  Or maybe you feel it’s not appropriate to discuss hot button topics at holiday events yet you have to share those events with others who feel free to express their opinions on divisive topics.

    While feeling less than stellar when these things happen is a very normal reaction, it still is not all that comfortable.  The less you “deal” with your unmet expectations,  the more likely these feelings can creep their way into your other interactions.   In Cheetah’s 20 hour online Communicating through Conflict program,  Cheetah students learn how to understand their own expectations FIRST before placing conditions on another to meet their needs.  Even if the other “starts” the conflict.   Unmet expectations are the source of all conflict.  Knowing your part is the first step in coming to a mutually agreeable resolution.

    To grow and learn from conflict, while also resolving conflicts, it takes more than just knowing about your expectations.  It takes skill to also dive into anothers motives, expectations, drives and desires in a way that brings about a deeper appreciation and understanding of all parties.  It is this level of depth that moves “managing expectations” out of the manipulative realm and into a significantly positive growth experience for all.   So while some conflict may be inevitable around the holidays, it’s impact on us and others can become a positive, relationship building experience.

    This is the purpose of Cheetah’s 20 hour online Communicating Through Conflict program – to turn destructive conflict into a positive growth experience for all parties.  We’ve been teaching this course for 23 years now.  It’s just another tool in our Cheetah Students’ bag of tricks that helps those who take it rise to the top of their industry (and have better personal relationships too).

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