Relationships involve unspoken contracts. As relationships deepen, sometimes we feel the need to put our expectations on paper. For example, you may meet and fall in love with the mate of your dreams. But when the relationship deepens, one party, or maybe even both, may want a pre-nuptial contract signed and in place before the vows are said. Employers and employees most often will sign legal documents outlining the expectations of the relationship. These documents clarify what a good relationship will look like and what will happen if the relationship doesn’t play out as expected. For most of us, however, we muddle through life and our various relationships without clearly defined expectations. We have to mentally perceive the other’s expectations/needs and then clarify our position should we not feel inclined to meet their expectations. And while you may start out in lock-step, time and circumstances weigh differently on each of us. Obviously, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding and hurt in our informal relationships.
We all have varied backgrounds and experiences through which we filter our conversations and relationships. If you’ve been hurt in an area, you’ll be more sensitive and leave the other person in the relationship wondering what triggered you to back away. The root of any misunderstanding is most likely a difference in values. For example, if you go into business with a friend, you may feel the friendship and time together in the venture is the top priority and you would not consider any opportunity that would come between you and your friend. Your partner however, while deeply committed to the relationship, may place profit and opportunity above the relationship–after all, it’s business. It’s easy to see how the slight difference in your values can undermine the relationship. At work, one team member may value getting the job done completely and on time, while their coworker has three other projects that are of a higher priority to them, so the team project doesn’t receive the value expected.
There is a lot of room for disappointment, hurt and misunderstanding flying around us in each and every relationship. . .with each and every interaction. While you may not put your expectations on paper, it is probably best to create an atmosphere where each party can articulate their expectations and values. Especially in a business setting, it is usually helpful to have periodic relationship check ups. Questions to answer might include: “How are things going from your perspective?” “Do you have any concerns about your workload or time constraints?” “Do you feel you are being heard?” “Are your needs being met?” This time should be approached as an open forum where each party can bring concerns forward without penalty. After all, the only thing each of us can own is our feelings. . .but it is very hard for the other party to know how we feel if we don’t tell them. There were no mind-reading classes offered at any grade level.
Some of the things we feel entitled to in our relationships include:
Possessions: At work, you may be assigned equipment from specific furniture, technology to even basic office supplies like pencils and staplers. These become YOUR possessions even if they are owned by the company. If someone borrows your stapler because theirs is jammed, and then they forget to return it, you’ll feel your entitlement begin to rise as you search for your stapler. Depending on your frustration in the effort, you’ll no doubt confront the other party and let them know of your frustration. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement. Your neighbor may borrow a tool and forget to return it for six months, while you fume and wonder if you should march next door and retrieve it. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Time: We all have 24 hours in a day, but each of us views time in different ways. In some cultures, time is considered exact; in others it is relative. I’ve been part of business meetings where we set a time for a team to meet and inevitably the same persons are late every time. The frustrating thing is they don’t even pick up on the fact they are late and kept ten people waiting 15 minutes. That’s 2 1/2 hours of wasted time. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Meal preparation is an exact science. You work hard to get everything done at the right time so it will all be at the right temperature when you are ready to serve it, but your guest(s) consistently arrive late making everyone else wait while the beautiful meal you fixed begins to fade. Your anxiety and frustrations rise. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Space: Your coworker comes in and just sits in your office talking to you for long periods of time when you need to get work done. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Moms, I know this is about friends and coworkers, but thought you’d like this one. Your teen trashes his room (a room that is part of your well-kept home). Your frustration level with your teenager is at an all time high. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Opportunity: You just got passed over for a promotion or raise. Maybe your coworker got to go with the boss to the annual conference and you had to stay home and man the office. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Maybe you felt your sibling got a bigger or better gift for their birthday than you did. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
Self: We all feel we have rights to our own bodies. There’s a limit to what we will allow. Certainly no one has the right to abuse us physically or sexually. We also allow people only so much opportunity for hurting us emotionally. Those who seem to always find fault with us can find themselves outside of our circle of welcome friends and family members. After all, you are a package deal–you come with all your great attributes, and probably a few quirks. . .but you are you. We expect others to accept us for who we are, not for who they want to make us into. Yep, you’ve got an entitlement.
By now you realize you have a lot of entitlements you never even considered. And, they aren’t all bad. They are the lines you draw with your relationships. The problem isn’t having them–they protect your values. However, you must become a master at communicating your needs and expectations to others. Hopefully, they will return the favor so you can understand where their sensitivities may lie. Good relationships take in to account the needs of both parties. Unfortunately, we can cop the attitude that “they should just know they hurt me.” Well, many times that may be true. But in many situations your feelings and the reasons for them may not be as apparent to others as you may think. Rather than walk away from the relationship, take the time to clarify your needs and feelings with the hope that others will understand and clarify their needs and intentions.
Is there any time when you should just walk away? Sure. If someone shows repeatedly that they do not respect you, it is probably time to just move on. When it is clearly evident that your values are juxtaposed to someone else’s values, it’s probably time to move on. Be careful about cutting important people from your life. And never do so until you have articulated your feelings to that person. Now make sure you do not share all the things you don’t like about them–that is criticism and won’t be effective–you’ll be sure to damage the relationship.
Share your feelings, your expectations, your values–not their mistakes. Don’t harbor your hurt feelings–they will harden your heart. Sample phrasing: “I feel _________ when you __________ because_____________.” For example:
“Joe, this morning I felt frustrated because I spent 15 minutes looking for my stapler. I’m more than happy for you to use mine if you need it, even if I’m not here. But I would appreciate it if you would return it when you are done.”
“Sam, when I get ready to use a tool, it becomes overwhelming and wastes time if it is not where I think I left it. I often forget when I’ve loaned you a piece of equipment and spend two days trying to remember what on earth I’ve done with it. So, I’ve created a sign out sheet to help me remember when I’ve loaned something out. And, once you are finished with it, it would be great if you could return it.”
“Team, time is money. It is important when we set a meeting time that all parties honor that time as being an exact time. This means you would need to arrive in time to park, enter the building and get through security so you can be in the meeting room ready to begin promptly at our agreed upon time. Please honor your team mates by respecting their time.”
“Mary, as you know, meal preparation can be an exact science and I want to make sure everything is hot and perfect for you. Would you be able to be here no later than 6:00? I’ll plan to serve some appetizers and we can be seated for dinner by 6:30. I love to cook and don’t mind working hard, but it is important to me that I am able to serve it hot and on time.”
“Sue, I’d love nothing better than spending the afternoon with you, but unfortunately I have a very demanding work load this afternoon. What say we schedule lunch this week so we can catch up.”
“John, I know you are often sleeping til the last minute and so your bed may not get made or your clothes into the laundry before you rush off to catch the bus. But I expect the following: no food in your room (we don’t want bugs), by noon on Saturday your sheets and dirty clothes will be in the laundry bin, and by Sunday morning your room will shine (at least this once during the week). And don’t forget our housekeeper comes every other Thursday so I’ll expect you to have your room picked up and surfaces cleaned off so she can do her job. If you do not keep your part of this deal, I’ll be coming in to clean your room in a timely way and items that are not put away will be confiscated. You may redeem them for $1.00 per item to be deducted from your allowance.”
“Boss, I was happy to stay home and take care of the office this year; however, just hearing about how wonderful the conference was made me wish I could have been there. I hope you’ll put me on the list for next year.”
“Linda, it seems we are not communicating well and you are an important person to me. I often walk away from our time together feeling like I share my life with you, but you do not share your feelings and life with me. Have I done something to make you feel I’m not interested in your life?”
Good communication. It has to start with you sharing your feelings. Both parties have them. . .and the better each party is at sharing their feelings, the better the relationship will be. I leave you with one caution. Take care of relationship business in a timely way. If someone does something that doesn’t sit well, deal with it within a 24-hour period. If you let it fester, it gets worse. If you let things pile up, they become insurmountable. The other person will never understand why you held on to a hurt for two years–they may not even remember the incident. And no one will be able to deal with a long list of things you have added up against them, especially if you dump them on them without warning. If you discuss things as they happen, it is simply clarifying your values, calibrating the relationship–you’ll learn and they will learn and the gears of your relationship will continue to run well. If someone is important to you, talk to them–often.