What’s the Big Deal? Have you ever felt let down? Disappointed that your expectations haven’t been met?

You have done your bit, given your best, gone out of your way to do things for people who just don’t appreciate it, or recognise what you have done?

I’m sure it’s a familiar feeling for a lot of us, from the small things like when a driver doesn’t acknowledge you after you wave him out at a junction to bigger things, like consistently going the extra mile at work and not getting the recognition you believe you deserve, or feeling that your relationship is all give and no take.

I have set myself up for my share of disappointment and even indignation at times “How could they do that….after I’ve done this…?” Sound familiar? I say that I have set myself up because that is exactly what has happened. And here’s how; Every day we make deals. Big deals, small deals, lots of deals. These deals, these contracts that we create are not like any other contracts that we enter into. An employment contract, a contract to buy or sell a house; anything that we intend to be binding has to have two parties to it that know and accept all the terms of what is being agreed.

And that’s how it should be isn’t it?

You can’t expect someone to fulfil their part in a deal that they are not aware of. Can you?

The other kind of contracts, the ones you make every day go something like this: “If I say or do A, you will say or do B”. These are psychological contracts; nothing is written or communicated and there is only one person who knows the terms of the contracts you make, and that’s you.

They are all in your mind. This doesn’t mean that these psychological contracts don’t ever work out. Lots of them do, because when we make them, we make them around people who have similar values, beliefs and expectations as we do.

The problems arise when we make one of these contracts, and set our expectations, in circumstances where the people we are building the contract around see things differently from how we do.

For example there was a TV advert where a business man from the UK went to China. During a meal with his hosts he made sure that he ate everything on his plate meaning “I ate all the food on my plate which shows you are a good host for providing it and you will be pleased”. The hosts were mortified and brought more and more food as to them the meaning was “I ate all of the food on my plate which shows you are a bad host for not providing enough and you should be ashamed” The hosts brought more and more food, he ate more and more food and at no point did anyone say anything or think that their actions may have been interpreted differently.

It’s a good example of how things go wrong when not everyone knows what the deal is and doesn’t think to ask.

There are many things that can cause a mismatch between what we expect and what actually happens: values, beliefs and memories for previous experiences all have an impact on the result we expect from our actions and behaviour.

Just because A+B=C in my world doesn’t mean it is the same in anyone else’s.

The other thing about the psychological contract is that often we are unaware that we have actually made one.

If the deal we make is deeply rooted in our beliefs about how the world is we can see it as “just the ways it is” and create even more upset for ourselves when it doesn’t turn out as expected.

When the contracts that we make get broken and our expectations are not met it can lead to disappointment or anger for us as the creator of the contract and confusion for the person who did not know that the contract had been made.

We often make this mismatch in expectation mean something negative about ourselves or about the person we were expecting something from. Frequently repeating this process is one of the main causes of relationship (personal or professional) break down and recognising when we have created a psychological contract can go a long way to avoiding or recovering this situation.

When you look a little closer it’s easy to see how ridiculous this is, isn’t it?

That we get upset when someone did not do something that they did not know they were expected to do, and that not doing it either makes them pretty mean or us just not worth the effort sounds bonkers doesn’t it? And yet we do it repeatedly.

So next time you feel let down, upset or indignant that your expectations weren’t met ask yourself “What’s the big deal?”

What outcome were you expecting? Was it agreed that your actions would lead to this outcome? Did anyone know what your expectations were………. and do you know theirs?

Be specific in explaining what outcome you are looking for and in asking others what they expect from you. If someone does not do something that they do not know is expected of them it does not mean that they don’t care, it just means they don’t have a crystal ball.

Author: Anne Burton MBA, Business Coaching, NLP Trainer, Change Expert, Writer and Blogger anne.burton@ontologics.co.uk