You are on the phone, stuck in a report meeting already exceeding the scheduled timeframe, listening to your Customer’s comments about monthly results and thinking on the next meeting round starting in the sequence. As if all that weren’t enough, new instant messages pop on your screen: it is asking you to provide yet another “as soon as possible” actions to the project stakeholders. Sounds familiar to you? I guess so.

The hectic professional life we’ve been leading today demands from us, like never before, an appropriate approach for taking care of different equally important responsibilities in a multi-thread environment and trying to satisfy increasingly growing demands, regarding employee’s productivity and performance and managing expectations in the best way possible.

Mastering such approach is not an easy task especially when fatigue, bad-mood, health or any other personal issues start taking its toll and the right work-life balance has been disturbed losing the desired state of equilibrium. While these are common effects and we are aware of its root causes, most of us struggle to deal with them limiting ourselves to the just complaint – instead of holding expectations for a while and start checking for alternatives or understanding the circumstances involved. Some time ago, I was expecting to receive from a friend of mine some important board numbers (asked the day before) to be shared with the CEO board in two days. I was eager to get them as soon as possible in order to let me have spare time to prepare the presentation – and since I had no response, I took the phone and asked him at which point of there port he was working. To my surprise, he had no clue on what I was talking about – since he didn’t catch up his emails yet. Of course, frustration got me, and I kindly asked him to prioritize my request. Thirty minutes later, I received the data as well as a late meeting update, postponing the presentation to the next week. Obviously, irritation and disappointment is a natural or (to say it better) automatic reaction coming from frustrated expectations but is it actually the right answer?

Did I say “chronic complainer”? 

Of course, complaining is part of our human nature (who can stumble kicking hard into a rock and keep a smile into his face, right?) and also some kind of a social habit – like sharing your thoughts about the weather to break the ice, for example. The deal about complaining is that no one says you can’t complain from time to time to get something off your chest to relieve the stress – but it is important to watch out and don’t become an infamous chronic complainer kind, that kind of person who we usually avoid at all cost and in which not only affect others, but uselessly drains himself of energy for whining instead of changing the unwanted situation – like a lost boat drifting away, headed out static to circumstances, instead of paddling seeking for change or a different land. Let’s take, for example, this research ordered by Brands2Life in partnership with LinkedIn. Around 79% of the Brazilian workers interviewed (I took as an example my home country, Brazil) prefer to stay as-it-is in their jobs and don’t apply for new opportunities since they consider that the new challenges involved might be worse than the present job they’re performing. The study goes further and suggests that 63% of people rather stay unhappy in the same company doing the same thing than look for new opportunities that could either fit better their skills. Can you see the static boat we were talking about? It’s fair to say that “beggars” (by beggars I mean the persons who stay dependent on the circumstances) can’t be “choosers” as the saying goes and as the above poll showed. In a world eager for positive outcomes and professionals equipped with adapting-skills, for sure action and proactiveness work better.

Become a chooser!

What if, instead of complaining, quitting or staying helplessly in a no-win situation, you would choose to be a chooser? The first real step becoming such a person is trying to get rid of biases, prejudgments and above all of the self-indulgence. Looking around carefully, paying attention to listening more and trying to find between the pros (the easy part) and the cons (the hard part) a balance capable of giving your valuable arguments the proper tone. Note that the chooser uses arguments in exchange for been used and abused by complaints. When we start learning this first step, we become able to hit the break from the typical rush and instead of just address things automatically, we slow down a little bit, allowing us to start better-accepting differences, and also, sharp our capacity to argue with the right arguments, context, and facts.

Is the expectation the root of all headaches?

Not necessarily. But also, not wrong – since in most of the time, we are the main guilty ones responsible to condition ourselves into a routine eager to deliver fast, ask for results quickly and associating this a synonym of effectiveness. This in fact, not necessarily fits effectiveness: we may be simply bothering others because of our conditioned mindset than being super pro-active project managers. Therefore, it is reasonable to state that our behavior directly influent the project (and the beloved life-balance we’re looking for) and also the stakeholders, since we become start to be demanding, expecting from others the same effort or compromise we adopt to ourselves. The bottom line: in the end, our expectation generates expectations into other’s behavior and in what or how they can contribute. If it is difficult to handle our own expectations, how to handle others? First, we need to understand who the main stakeholders involved are and identify, at a very first glance, their expectations, needs, interests, and apprehensiveness. A good practice is to create a list, a private list (property of the project manager only), showing the main stakeholders involved, their roles, and the level of influence, giving the project manager key characteristics and hints to guide the approach to each of them. It is vital to understand the chain of people involved directly or indirectly, those who can influence the project somehow, and even those not directly connected to the project. This map should involve not only the main stakeholders and working peers, but, as a risk and management exercise, should exceed the usual project boundaries – e.g., thinking how a project for a construction plant may impact the local community with noise and the waste generated in the surroundings and the environment. It is interesting also to plan how teams should connect to work together, the strategy (individual, in groups, or both) to break resistance and lead to engaging everyone successfully. The project manager must comprehend the local environment in which the project takes place: a very conservative financial company has the staff, the willingness to take risks, and the management approach a way different from a technology start-up, for example. The full picture shows that the stakeholder is a unique and peculiar individual influencing the project in different ways – demanding from the project manager, study, discipline, and resilience to define the most assertive and efficient approach for each project. In summary, common sense, resilience, and patience are undoubtedly a great asset to manage expectations. Therefore, slowing down the pace for a while to get more focused and assertive insights refers often to let spreadsheets and KPI´s aside for a while and invest more in the sometimes forgotten art to be really engaged to connect more to people, their ways of working and its individual needs. This kind of connection, human, not predictable, full of complexity but at the same time so important and sometimes underrated – probably can will be the one responsible to give to the PM the best approach and that fantastic differential you´re looking for to achieve not only people´s, but also project expectations.