Unrealistic expectations? What do you do?

Have you met someone with unrealistic expectations? Did he or she have a lofty goal that they could not accomplish or were they bossy, expecting everyone else to do all the work for them?

How did that make you feel? Was it stressful? Are you the focus of their disappointment even if you had nothing to do with it failing?

Unrealistic expectations pop up everywhere and can catch you by surprise. Here are some examples of situations:

  • Someone wants you to make their decision for them
  • Existing physical, mental or intellectual capabilities limit reaching a goal
  • A blind spot prevents you from seeing a weakness that stalls career growth
  • Financial constraints impact taking action to reach your goal
  • Making the assumption, if you lead, everyone will follow without questioning
  • You don’t think you have to work to get what you want

The question is: how do you interact or work with someone who has unrealistic expectations? Do you try to help them or walk away?

If you believe you can help someone come to terms with their unrealistic expectations, it is essential that you ground them in reality. This might be a more difficult task than you think.

One technique is to ask the unrealistic person to be more specific on what they want or expect. Often unrealistic expectations are statements with broad brush strokes that lack supporting data or substance to back it up.

For example, a broad statement might be “I want to move into a new career – what do you think I should do?” This statement was made by someone who wants to change careers does not know what they want to do and expects others to tell them what to do.

Another example is “I will make $100K in my first year in business”. This expectation comes from a newly minted business owner who is entering a saturated market without previous experience.

So what do you do? The next step is to drill down. Ask them to specifically show how they expect to reach their sales goal or how are they going to make a decision on their career focus.

Some of the types of questions you might ask are:

  • How are they networking?
  • What is their personal branding strategy?
  • Why would someone want to engage them?
  • Who is their competition?
  • Who are their customers or clients?
  • What research have they done before making a decision or setting a goal?
  • What is their competitive advantage?
  • How are they facilitating customer or client acquisition?
  • What structure or processes are they using to keep themselves accountable?
  • Do they know when they are failing?
  • What do they do when they fail?
  • How do they measure their interim successes?

If they stumble answering these questions, most likely they do not have a clear strategy or action plan with built in personal accountability.

After going through this process, hopefully, they will realize that there is some work to be done to be successful.

Do not be surprised if you are asked to “step in” and champion some of their efforts. Resist the temptation to be the nice “guy or girl”. Sometimes being a friend means a dose of tough love.

You will not be doing them a favor. Taking accountability for their success only serves to reinforce that their unrealistic expectations are realistic. When it fails, guess who will be the scapegoat – you!

If they need a coach, advise them to work with someone they do not know well. It is much easier to hold someone accountable without tiptoeing through a personal relationship.

What kinds of unrealistic expectations have you faced? How did you handle helping them and at the same time keeping your relationship on track?

About Lynn Dessert (426 Posts)

Lynn Dessert is an ICF trained certified NLP Coach specializing in Executive, Career and Life coaching based in Rochester, N.Y. She works with individuals and organizations to maximize personal effectiveness skills—a cornerstone to career advancement. Lynn is the author of What To Do After Being Fired and The Secerts to Successful Job On-Boarding. Start your discovery process by contacting her at 585.249.5149 today.


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  1. [...] Lynn Dessert, at Elephants at Work, wants to know how do you interact or work with someone who has Unrealistic Expectations? What Do You Do? [...]

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