Expectation management is an important skill both personally and professionally. When we do not actively work to manage our own expectations and those of our clients, communities, and supervisors, we often set ourselves up for failure. Despite this, it does not seem to be a subject that is widely written on or discussed. It is hard to find prescriptions to guide an aspiring international development worker to better manage expectations. Taking lessons from my prior experiences and experiences this summer as an intern for Peace Corps Senegal, I’ve compiled a few considerations that may help manage expectations in the workplace in the future.

I began actively thinking about the need to manage expectations several years ago in my role as consultant and trainer for hospitals and clinics. The first area in which I actively sought to manage expectations was as a training facilitator. I managed participants’ expectations by explicitly stating the training objectives, agenda, what I expected from them (participation) and what they could expect from me (subject-area expertise and interaction). Similarly, while providing consulting services to hospitals and clinics I tried to be painstakingly detailed in writing my proposed work statements. Moreover, the details of work statements were often collaboratively conceived through planning meetings, and subsequently tweaked through constant communication to meet the clients’ needs. While responding to clients’ needs, it was important to be honest with ourselves about our limitations, and not commit to more than we were capable of doing.

As an intern with Peace Corps Senegal this summer, I have visited many villages throughout the country to speak with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and community members. During one of our field visits we were invited to lounge in the shade with the village chief and elders. The conversation quickly turned to what the PCV was going to do for the village. One of the elders spoke, “You’re here to help us? Well we need a water tower. And electricity!” Projects of this scale are out of reach. Most grants available to PCVs are in the hundreds of dollars. The village elder who was expecting these larger projects appeared irritated and disappointed. This particular volunteer responded well, explaining his limitations and what his role could be in the community. We want to please our clients and community, but short-term disappointment is often necessary to achieve long-term success.

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When implementing projects, we can better manage our clients, communities, and supervisors’ expectations by 1) planning projects and deliverables collaboratively with stakeholders, 2) being honest with ourselves about our limitations and 3) not over-committing, 4) explicitly stating the work objectives, deliverables, and project details, and 5) keeping open lines of communication throughout all stages of the project.

What do you do to manage expectations? I would love to hear what works for our readers in this regard. Also, are there good resources out teach expectation management? Please share them in comments if you know of any!