May 30, 2024

The Expectation/Frustration Connection

According to my dictionary, the term “expectation” was first used about 1540 in the Common Era. In about 1555, the term “frustration” appeared…and they’ve been linked ever since. It seems frustration has been following expectation for almost 500 years. If you got rid of one, could you get rid of the other?

An expectation can be defined as:

  1.     A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
  2.     A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Our Knower/Judgers (which record experiences and feelings throughout our lives) cause us to develop certain expectations. On a cultural level, we expect things like warm greetings in the morning at the office, or that people will wait their turn in line.

We can reasonably expect that we’ll receive an Egg McMuffin when we order one and that the dog will show unlimited affection when we return from a hard day at the office. Our kids are generally expected to perform both academically and athletically better than we ever did at their age. The list of expectations based on our K/J rules of life is practically endless.

We continually bet our emotional stability on the myriad life rewards we expect. “If Johnny doesn’t call and ask me to the prom, I’ll just die!” “If that son of a bitch doesn’t give me a raise by June, I’ll just quit and work for his competition.” “Sylvia, I’m so disappointed in your grades.” The list goes on.

Frustration can be defined as:

  1. The feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something: tears of frustration rolled down her cheeks
  2. A deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs

Negative feelings about not achieving some expectation are inherent to the concept of frustration. And just as frustration follows expectation in the history of English usage and in the dictionary, I would say that frustration would be impossible without expectations. Think about it. How could you be frustrated if you had no emotional investment in the outcome?

Want to reduce your frustration in the coming year? Manage your expectations!

During the last years of his life, my mentor, Jut Meininger, spent countless hours on the phone with me trying to get me out of my K/J and into my Learner/Researcher to wrap my mind around the concept of just giving up expectations. “Expectations,” he would tell me, “are the foundation of all frustration. No expectations? No frustration!”

It took a while to learn (and I still fail at it often), but I did learn to manage my expectations to some degree, and you can too. It’s simply a matter of giving up something that isn’t serving you well. After all, frustration compromises your productivity, well-being, happiness, etc. Why would you want to be frustrated?

Start with what’s close

“I have expectations of my spouse, kids, co-workers,” you tell me. Sure you do. It’s human nature. But what generates most of the frustration in our lives? Bingo! People and relationships that are important to us.

Here are some expectations we can try giving up:

  • Your son or daughter has to score goals while playing soccer.
  • Your boss has to recognize your contributions in order for you to love coming to work every day.
  • Husbands should just be good listeners when they come home instead of suggesting ways to fix a problem.
  • The wife should just button it up, ’cuz you had a rough day too.

Can you see how expectations lead you right down the slippery slope? What happens when you don’t get what you expect? Frustration! Withdrawal. Sometimes resentment. But where did it start? With the other person’s inability to meet your expectations?

Now I’m not a finger-pointing guy. But if you were a third-party observer of some of the interactions outlined above, who would you deem accountable for any downstream interpersonal dysfunction? The person with the expectation or the person who failed to meet it?

When you feel yourself getting frustrated, think back to why. What was your expectation? Why did you have that expectation?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write up a direct report for consistent failure to produce an agreed outcome. But I don’t see the failure of the direct report as a catalyst for frustration. It’s a motivator to fire the person. And why would we fire out of frustration? We would fire someone based on L/R data that says we’re paying for a job that’s not getting done.

Frustration is an emotional state you can choose to stay out of. The key, as my mentor would still be telling me, is to give up the expectation.




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