Expectations are the mother’s milk of conflict.
They serve as the fuel that allows a conflict to grow, past the point of employing tactics that would be considered “reasonable” to the point of needing tactics that are unreasonable.
Expectations fuel conflict because they go hand-in-hand, with assumptions. Every party in a conflict knows that assumptions and expectations are deadly, but every party can’t always articulate why.
Here’s the why:
Assumptions exist in the individual minds of the participants in the conflict, their emotions, and their projection onto the other party. Assumptions are dangerous because they bind the other party in a box, not of their own making.
This box doesn’t allow for the creation of creative solutions to the conflict at hand. If anything, the assumption box leads to the same responses and reaction as those that created the conflict in the first place.
Expectations then come from assumptions, because human beings are pattern seeking animals. When looking for the patterns of migrating herds of beasts on the Great Plains or the Serengheti, pattern seeking is critical to eating and overall survival. However, in interpersonal relationships, in the 21st century, pattern seeking comes from the expectation that what occurred in the past, is still what will occur in the future.
Expectations bind each party to the other in a dance of futility, disappointment and dysfunction. Often—as in families, businesses, and even civic and fraternal organizations—this dance becomes part of “the way we do things here.” Which, when the steps in the dance are questioned by outsiders, defensiveness arises, and calls of “that’s just the culture,” or “You don’t understand. That’s just how we do things here,” begin to be the guiding mantra for avoiding the change that conflicts inherently create.
Managing disappointment with emotional maturity, clarity, thoughtfulness, and with the ability to confront appropriately and effectively, is one of the ways to break the pattern of expectations, derived from assumptions.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org