Expectations are really fascinating; they exist silently in our psyche, hidden from conscious view. They are sometimes so quiet you may not even know an expectation is in play; you might sense that something isn’t quite right, it may feel unnecessarily stressful (and you’re not sure why). Our expectations of others are often more visible to us, and still manage to cause the same complications when they are not being met. Unmet expectations (our own, or others of us) breed the conditions for us to react (rather than respond) to what we are experiencing. Reactions really mess with our sense of self and well-being. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could make these hidden expectations more visible? We can.
Enter mathematics. Stay with me, you are not going to do any actual math, but there is a mathematical concept we learned in grade school that flushes out a hidden expectation before it causes emotional upheaval. It is “greater than”, “lesser than” and “equal to”. Here’s how it can help. Begin by taking a few deep breaths to settle yourself into quiet contemplation; then look at your work day, consider the people you will be meeting with today, and then ask yourself “Do I feel ‘greater than’, ‘lesser than’ or ‘equal to’ this person?” The answers may surprise you.
When we feel “greater than” someone it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You may be training a new employee and so your knowledge and experience in your working environment is “greater than” theirs. However, there are times we feel “greater than” in a not-so-great way, like when you think of someone as “beneath” you …possibly when you see someone as very different from you (i.e. less mature etc.). In what circumstances does your less-than-great “greater than” show up at work? What expectations are woven into this belief? How might you be experienced when you feel “greater than” someone?
Feeling “lesser than” someone at work is a very stressful circumstance. Feeling this way often sets self-expectations that are rigid, like “don’t screw up”, designed to help us move through interactions with this person …and impossible to meet. There may be many reasons why someone makes you feel “lesser than”; they may be an abrasive, or a toxic person. They may be a very nice person, and you’ve just psyched yourself out. At work, titles can often do this; I remember years ago meeting with a CEO for the first time at a job interview and feeling all kinds of “lesser than”. She was really nice. I did not get the job. It’s hard to showcase your strengths when you are feeling “lesser than”. Do you need to feel this way? What expectations are behind this belief? How well does this belief serve you in your work?
When you experience “equal to” it is a much different experience. There is often confidence, and trust, in these relationships. Check in here, are any expectations present? We don’t often hold rigid expectations within relationships where we feel “equal to”. We don’t need to, we have built relationships that are mutually satisfying in “equal to”. These relationships can be with best friends, or casual acquaintances, and they support well-being. However, if there is a change to the context of these relationships, the relationship (and your expectations of it) need to be re-navigated (and possibly even re-negotiated). As an example, when you are promoted at work, and your friend is not (or vice-versa).
Applying this mathematical concept to your relationships can proactively “flush out” any hidden expectations you may have, allowing you to work on key connections, helping them to grow towards “equal to” and empowering well-being, for yourself and others, at work.
“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” - Michael J. Fox