I have spent a great deal of time observing, listening, and processing what I hear and see around me.
Human beings are interesting if not also a bit messy.
I’ve tried to learn and grow, practice as much as possible with the goal of improving things for all.
If I can, I try to share along the way.
On this journey, one common theme that emerges is conflicts.
These conflicts can occur among staff, between leadership and their subordinates and even among contractors, vendors and even clients.
A few things I have learned along the way is that win-win-win, is not always possible.
Large conflicts cannot necessarily be resolved.
Left unattended, conflicts grow.
Rarely is it 100% the fault of one-side.
If there is an unbalanced power dynamic, those in power may weigh responsibility less than that of the side with less power.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a few years ago, I came to recognize that differing expectations were at the core of a substantial number of conflicts I have come across.
Allow me to share a quick story to provide an example.
During my undergraduate days, I worked in a retail environment to help finance my studies.
I started by working on the weekend and you won’t be surprised, the training was very ad-hoc.
I soon discovered the weekend staff generally did not work during the weekday due to their availability.
Instantly, I heard clear animosity towards the weekday staff.
It was often mentioned that work was left by weekday staff for the weekend staff to do because the weekday staff were “lazy.”
When the owner would arrive and see certain tasks not complete, the weekend staff got reprimanded and forced to complete the work.
I later found out that the owner was more focused on the task rather than which team did it.
When the owner was there and saw the work not done, they just addressed it with the people on-site in-front of them. I would also soon learn, this happened on the weekday.
To continue, being a struggling student and needing more hours, I offered my availability during the weekday to the manager.
During my first weekday shift on Monday morning, to my surprise, one of the first comments I heard was hostility towards the weekend staff for leaving work for the weekday staff and how they were “lazy.
If I closed my eyes, I would have thought I was standing in front of the weekend staff.
When they learned I was a weekend staff, I could feel the tension.
Ironically, the work was not overly complex, it involved cleaning, taking inventory, restocking, nothing out-side the normal job parameters.
This was my third week on the job and already I was spotting a trend of blaming and faulting others due to differing expectations.
That said, at the time, I did not see the differing expectations as I do now. Only in retrospect do I see it as part of the root-cause.
And, as I mentioned before, when the owner came on the Monday, the weekday staff got the reprimand for work not done as per the owner’s expectations.
I have come to call this “multidirectional expectations.”
To conclude the story, what I came to learn is that the hiring manager, who did all the scheduling, did not clarify expectations for staff.
Expectations were not clear. Yet, to be candid, the work was not overly complex, the lack of expectation may have unnecessarily contributed to the tense work environment.
The hiring manager also normally hired people who could only work weekends or only weekdays.
This inherently created two different teams in the organization.
There was actually good reason to do this from a scheduling standpoint yet it was not known to anyone other than the hiring manager at the time.
The weekend staff normally did not to communicate with the weekday staff and vice versa.
The owner had their own expectations and did not clearly communicate this to the hiring manager and had no idea about scheduling. They did not realize there were two teams.
All the owner cared about was the tasks that needed to be completed, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Makes sense from the perspective as an owner.
We can see from this story that we have expectations in different directions and between different levels i.e., “multidirectional expectations.”
Over two decades later, I still see conflicts arise due to a lack of clear expectations.
You can see from the above how this can happen from a staff and leadership perspective, yet it can have larger reach.
Imagine you hire a consultant, you will set a $ rate, yet if don’t specifically clarify what is expected from them in time and quality, would you be surprised if you had conflicts?
If you get into a partnership agreement with someone and you don’t talk about who will precisely do what and how much $ each party will contribute and get, come success or failure, can you see conflicts arising due to this?
Imagine if problems arise at work and you think it is a problem for upper-management to address, yet upper-management believes it is a front-line manager issue.
In such a case, don’t be surprised if everyone might know the problem and due to differing expectations, no one acts to address the problem and it grows.
All this to say, clarify expectations every chance you get and don’t ever presume or assume anything is clear.
Expect conflicts if you don't clarify expectations.
I will expect this and so should you.