What happens when there are misaligned expectations?

A useful discussion came up in a coaching session a few weeks ago, and we realized that there were some very misaligned expectations.

The leader was confused about why her direct report thought she was micromanaging him. The leader believed she gave the direct report a lot of autonomy to complete his tasks. All the leader needed was a few critical pieces of information each week from her direct report so she could respond to senior leadership.

She couldn’t understand how requesting a few pieces of information created the feeling in her direct report that she was micromanaging him. As we dug in, we came across a pretty common occurrence: misaligned expectations can lead to conflict. In this case, the conflict was the perception of micromanagement. 

Misaligned expectations come from a lack of communication

So what happened? How did the leader get to this spot? Misaligned expectations all come back to communication.

Doesn’t it always?

When the leader and her direct report met, the leader set expectations: each week, I will ask you for information on your progress toward the stated goals. The direct report heard the leader and defined “information on your progress” as X, Y, Z.

Unfortunately, the leader defined “information on your progress” as A, B, C.

You might see where this is going.

When the direct report informed the leader of X, Y, Z, the leader came back with many questions as she tried to dig into getting information on A, B, C. This “digging in” made the direct report feel like the leader didn’t trust him. He had given her the requested information, and now she was asking far more questions than he deemed necessary. He felt micromanaged.

The leader was frustrated because it seemed like pulling teeth to get the requested information. She thought she had given a lot of autonomy to her direct report, and why couldn’t they easily give her the requested information? The misaligned expectations all boiled down to a lack of communication. 

They were operating from two different expectations

There was no clear definition between both parties of what the leader requested. Consequently, too much energy was spent trying to achieve both of their separate definitions. 

Luckily, this wasn’t a difficult fix.

The leader and direct report were able to sit down and clearly define what information the leader needed. She reiterated to her direct report that she wanted him to have autonomy in his process of getting her that information. She then followed-up with an honest conversation on micromanagement and asked her direct report what behaviors she exhibited that he deemed as micromanaging.

They talked through her behaviors’ intent and their impact on her direct report. It also allowed the leader to share additional context on why she was asking specific questions. This context helped her direct report understand better how his information is used by senior leadership.

Essentially, she connected the dots.

This might not be the last time there are misaligned expectations between the leader and her direct reports, but this specific situation gave her more insight into ensuring her expectations are clear. It also opened a dialogue with her direct reports so that if they feel micro-managed, they can go to her for the discussion. 

Where are you having conflicts with team members? Could any of them be tied to misaligned expectations? Perhaps a conversation is to redefine expectations so everyone is operating from the same definition. We can help make those conversations easy!