In most relationships there are expectations. Expectations are good… when everyone involved is aware of them. In marriage, there is an expectation of fidelity, commitment, honor, respect, etc. In business, the expectation is honesty and providing goods or services promised. What happens when there are unspoken expectations? Unspoken expectations are assumptions of action and behavior one person has for another.

This is harmful to relationships in two key ways. First, it is arbitrary. When you have an expectation that your spouse/partner is going to behave in a way that has not been shared out loud, tension is the result. This is because the other person is unaware of what you want.

Every person has a running dialog in their mind, yes, that includes you. We perceive (sometimes wrongly) a situation unfolding and jump to assumptions and base our mood, outlook and intentions on the internal dialog. That’s not helpful to anyone, in particular someone you love or work with.

Second, unspoken expectations create fear of the future. Fear of the future keeps us stuck. This often plays out through anxiety. Anxiety has to do with worrying about something that may happen in the future. Unspoken expectations create anxiety for a similar reason as above; the internal dialog taking place. When you allow the internal dialog to start and run without a speed bump or stop sign, you will feel your chest and neck start to tighten. Also, your thoughts of the other person go to worst case scenario which only perpetuates the cycle.

In business, this can play out in a negotiation or sale. If you have an unspoken expectation of how the sale will go or what the other person should do, anxiety will start to creep in. When it comes to colleagues you are working on a project with; when details and aspects are assumed, miscommunication happens causing anxiety to interrupt the work flow and more importantly, the relationship.

Unspoken expectations only bring harm to relationships. What should you do?

Clear, open communication is a foundational piece of any relationship (work or personal). Learn to speak your mind in a kind and curious manner. Being curious means asking a question without speculating the reply. Stay present. If you assume you know what the response to your question will be; you didn’t ask a good question. 

Curious questions is a skill to be developed. I cannot count the number of times I have had a running dialog in my mind that has de-railed a conversation with my wife. It takes time and vulnerability to choose open curiosity. Most people (you and I included) are shy about choosing to be vulnerable.

And yet, vulnerability and curiosity are two qualities we want in people we are in relationship with. Why not be that person?