When we purchase a service or a product, or when we set ourselves goals, we have certain expectations of what the product or service will give us, or how we will feel when we achieve our goals. We have hopes in terms of what gain creators (what will we get) or pain relievers (what issues that we have will be solved or improved) the product or service will give us. An important part of a sales person’s job is to highlight the pain relievers and gain creators of a product (more on this in another blog later in 2021), but it is very easy to have unrealistic expectations of what the product or service will actually do for us, or how we will feel and what we will actually get when we have achieved our goals. For this reason, expectation management is important, both for us and the people we deliver services to.



Needs versus expectations

It is very easy to conflate needs with expectations. Examples of this could include:

  • A student with an IELTS band 5 who needs a 7, and they have signed up for a 120-hour course.
  • A teacher who is doing a CELTA (or CertTESOL) and expects to land a job with ease after the qualification is completed.
  • A teacher doing a CELTA (or a CertTESOL/DELTA/Trinity Diploma/MA, etc) expecting it to solve all their teaching problems.
  • A young learner signing up to 120-hours of task-based English, delivered 3 hours a week over 40 weeks in a private language school (PLS), with the parent expectation that they will perform better in state school exams that follow a very rigid grammar and vocabulary-based syllabus.
  • A teacher joining your organisation because of its robust and well-designed teacher development program and then finding they have to do most of the development work on their own (self-directed professional development).

While these are only a few examples, I will use some of them to highlight how expectations can be managed and why it is important to manage expectations without removing the desire and drive for success.



How to manage expectations

Regardless of the situation, there are certain steps that can be followed to ensure that expectations are managed in a principled manner.

1. Be clear about deliverables

The more detailed this is, the better. If it is a course, exactly what will be covered and what is in the curriculum. What will students, or teachers, be able to do after the course, and potentially what not. If you are a CELTA or CertTESOL centre, you cannot guarantee that a teacher will walk into a job after completion. We actually incorporate sessions into our courses looking at finding work, and unfortunately have to address issues of racism and native speakerism in these sessions. It doesn’t mean a non-native speaker shouldn’t do CELTA or CertTESOL because they may experience unfair hiring practices, but addressing these issues also makes it clear for their peers, and in the long run helps to reshape the industry.

2. Set realistic expectations

What are the outcomes (often based on the curriculum) and also what is the client, student or teacher responsible for doing? For example, it is already near impossible to jump two bands in IELTS in a 120-hour course. You have absolutely no chance of even getting close if you never hand in homework, or don’t do any study outside of the classroom. If the student is expecting something impossible and you don’t tell them it is impossible, you are setting them up for disappointment.

3. Sing a contract

This might sound silly, but if you are buying a 120-hour course, you would want some certainty in terms of what can be expected. There should be some sort of service level agreement that protects both the buyer and the supplier of the service. If I promise that all my teachers are CELTA or CertTESOL qualified, I have to honour that. If I promise that we will cover certain topics, I have to honour that. In return, the customer also has some obligations, and these exceed just paying the fees. If it is a certificated course like the Trinity CertTESOL, then you need to complete your portfolio work, because without it, you cannot pass moderation.

4. Connect with the person

The first three sound very formal. This one less so. Managing expectations is a lot easier if you actually have some sort of connection with your customer. Communicate regularly and clearly. Get to know them and understand their needs, and potentially changing needs. Always be clear about how well you can address changing needs.

5. Be honest and transparent

These ‘tips’ are closely tied to each other, but I am putting this separately because it goes beyond just realistic expectations and deliverables. If there is a breakdown in communication or a complaint, be honest if there was an issue and commit to addressing it. Trying to deceive might make the initial problem go away, but it is very likely to return later on and negatively impact your reputation, or your overall service delivery. It sounds fantastic to offer a 60-hour course to nurses preparing for the OET exam, but if you have never done it, say so. Maybe the customer trusts you enough to persist with you and your organisation, and maybe they don’t. But you’d rather lose the customer for this course and retain them for others, than lose them completely because you have underdelivered.

6. Walk away

If you cannot meet the customer’s expectations, walk away. Don’t promise something you cannot do. You were chosen for a reason. Clients have generally made the decision to purchase before the walk into your office or school, and the decision they need to make is whether they will choose you. The reverse is also true. You can accept the client’s money and deliver what they asked for – or you can decline it, because you don’t offer what they want or need, or because their expectations are unrealistic. The client might walk away and find someone else or they might lower their expectations but selling a service and not delivering it is bound to damage your reputation in the long run.



Looking forward without unrealistic expectations

2020 was a very difficult year. Hopefully, 2021 will only be better. The expectation that it will be better is there, so I am ending this with three tips about how we can avoid having unrealistic expectations.

1. Don’t assume

Ask. Many of us have spent months at home and in isolation with our main connection to loved ones and friends through Zoom or other online platforms. It is very easy to assume because we have somewhat lost the connections we had. Many of us have suffered loss. If you are unsure, ask. There is a lot to rebuild in 2021.

2. Remove expectations when they are not needed

It is very easy to address family and friend issues the same way in which we address issues at work. But your family life isn’t a contract. And you don’t have deliverables and service level agreements with your children, your parents or your friends. Sometimes, just let go of expectations. It removes a lot of pressure from those we connect with socially. Not everything is about work.

3. Smell the roses

We have been through a tremendously difficult 2020. Learn to appreciate the things and people in your lives. I did a little experiment with my family where we wrote down two things we appreciated or liked about someone in the family. It is an on-going thing. Initially, it is remarkably difficult. Because, if you asked me to write down something they did that annoyed me, I can. It’s easy. It’s more difficult to force yourself to notice something positive. My wife arranged a dinner with friends I didn’t know about and I wanted to watch the Matrix with my kids. I was annoyed that she didn’t watch with us. I woke up the next morning and had to think of what I could write down about the previous day. While thinking about it, I took down the trash and realised that there were three bags of popcorn in the trash. And other snacks. She had gone out of her way to make sure the kids and I had popcorn and snacks while we watched the movie, and had I not forced myself to notice something positive, I would probably have just remembered that she left to eat with her friends. If you cannot smell the roses, go find some. They smell great.