When I was a new manager, a mentor taught me something that I’ve used successfully over the years. Actually, in looking back, this teaching moment was one of those watershed events when I realized that I’d just received insight that had the potential to make my professional life infinitely better if I could consistently apply it.

I was talking with my manager, who was also my mentor, about the fact that some of the people I was managing were not getting the results that had been expected. Although these folks had fallen short of expectations, they were under the impression that they had done very good work. I could see the wheels turning in his head. What he told me wasn’t rocket science but it was very profound. He told me that most of the problems when dealing with people are caused by expectation gaps. The larger the gap, the larger the problem.

At that exact time, I don’t think I fully understood what I’d just been told but I wrote it down because it sounded like something I should remember and, at least, file away for future reference. I quickly learned that the reason I was not getting the results I wanted was because I hadn’t fully communicated the results I wanted clearly or in a way that could be easily understood. Through the years this has consistently proven to be true. Most problems between people are primarily the result of expectation gaps. Have you ever had a personal or professional situation where someone is telling you how great a job he or she has done and you’re thinking about how far they missed your expectations?

The two most important questions to ask yourself before voicing criticism: (1) “Did I specify exactly what I wanted?” (2) “Did he/she understand my expectations?” It’s only through clear communication that expectation gaps can be reduced or eliminated. We have to ask for exactly what we want and we have to make sure that the person we are dealing with understands what we want. Think of some areas where you might be experiencing expectation gaps. The most important thing is to identify the gaps and then think about ways to close the gaps.

So, what if you’ve clearly communicated your expectations to someone who clearly understands what you want and you still don’t get the results expected? Well, that’s an entirely different problem with a completely different solution. We’ll hold that for another blog posting.