Outcomes and Expectations: A matter of perspective?

I teach people to let go of the outcome, that they can be happy regardless of whether their expectations were met or not. How does that jive with the expectations and accountability that we employ in dealing with others?

The dichotomy

My message is “you will WIN regardless of the outcome so quit worrying about the result you get.” For parents and business leaders that message raises questions about the difference in the expectations we have for ourselves and those we have of others.

In other words, how can we expect others to meet our expectations…provide the outcome we desire and hold them accountable to that…when we’re not doing the same for ourselves?

The answer

I applaud you for being that concerned about fairness to others. The reality is that there is an element you’re overlooking…the element of choice.

In both instances, all parties involved have a choice. When we’re dealing with our own actions and outcomes, we realize that we’re going to make mistakes but even mistakes afford us the opportunity to learn and grow which is a way of winning. We also expect to have to live with the consequences of our choices.

When dealing with others we’re asking them to make a choice. The key is to make sure the choices you offer are all acceptable to you. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.


At Thanksgiving dinner my nephew’s 2-year-old son wanted to leave the table to play. My nephew gave him a choice. His son could stay at the table and get dessert or leave the table and forego his dessert. He left the choice to his son. Having set clear expectations all that was left was for him to hold his son accountable for his choice. Just as we have to live with the consequences of our choices so did his son.


Assume that you’re a business leader and you have an employee whose help you need on a project. You outline the project and your expectations, then ask your employee if they’d like to be involved.

If she accepts the project, you have a right to hold her accountable for the choice she made, just as my nephew held his son accountable for the choice he made and as we hold ourselves accountable for the consequences of our choices.

For you

As you can see, the seeming dichotomy in our treatment of ourselves and others is an illusion. We are employing exactly the same tactics in both our own choices and the choices of others.

The next time you find yourself wondering whether you’re being unfair in your expectations of others, check to see whether or not you gave them a choice. If you did, then it’s reasonable to expect them to live with the consequences when they fail to meet expectations. After all, that’s what you expect of yourself.

The only difference is that you’ve discovered that you’ll win regardless of the outcome. The person with whom you’re dealing may not have made that discovery yet. Of course you can help them learn that lesson.

For our kids

Teach them how to let go of the outcome as well as how to structure their expectations in the form of choice for those with whom they deal. They’ll enjoy better results, less frustration and longer-lasting relationships for that effort.

When they exhibit disappointment or bitterness over someone else’s actions, ask them “Did you offer the person choices?” Odds are they didn’t.

If they didn’t, guide them through the process of a candid conversation in which they admit their contribution to unmet expectations, offer the other person choices for moving forward, and holding the other person accountable.

Over time they’ll learn that it’s much easier and eminently fair to hold others accountable after they’ve made a choice. It’s what we expect of ourselves. That’s fair.

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