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Tug of War Between Assumptions and Expectations

Remember that old saying you make an “ass out of u and me” when you assume?




The most common challenges I see in organizations stem from miscommunication based on assumptions. There are many reasons we make assumptions when working with others, and often it’s done with the best intentions. Unfortunately, the results are confusion, delays, frustration, and rework.

How clear are you when setting expectations? Whether an employee or a supervisor, it is essential to set clear expectations. We regularly make assumptions about what others know or “should” know. By making these assumptions, we set ourselves up for frustration and the other person up for failure or disappointment.


When tasking an employee, if you are looking for something specific, tell them what you expect them to do. Please do not assume they have worked in the field or your organization for a long time; they should know what you want. The amount of time it takes to provide a few extra details to avoid confusion is minimal when you consider the alternative when they come back with something not meeting your expectation.


There is a stark contrast between giving employees room to grow, taking the initiative or ownership, and withholding the details they need to be successful. Conversely, if you genuinely allow them to put their spin on the assignment, your expectation should be more flexible on the end product. Not all projects and deliverables offer this flexibility, and employees may require additional training, details, and direction to be successful.


As leaders, it is crucial to develop your staff and offer them opportunities to grow and feel challenged but also supported. The most successful teams build trust and confidence gradually at a pace that makes sense for their organization. This process requires consistent training and guidance, clear expectations, detailed and precise communication, and follow-up at a frequency that makes sense to support the employee.

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