A Coaching Power Tool Created by Drew Collins
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
“Perspective” can relate to various concepts, most of which refer in some way to the way we view the world. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perspective as “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed”. In other words, your perspective is a mental picture. The colors and images of that picture are what your mind sees at any given time, but revisit the same situation tomorrow, and the picture will likely be different. That is because your perspective is influenced by what you feel, where you’ve been, and what you know. It is the mind’s picture of a situation rather than an objective depiction.
There is a saying that “your mind will always believe everything you tell it.”While that is surely oversimplified, there are things a client can do to shift the way they think about a situation to cast the picture in a more positive light. Power Tools are adaptations meant to aid a client in shifting their perspective. By identifying perceptions that may become barriers to success and helping the client shift the perception from a barrier to a strength, Power Tools can facilitate growth and forward movement.
Expectations are beliefs of what will or should be. They are born out of the experience, which means they are also self-affirming and grow larger or more resolute with time. The great thing about expectations is that they can be quite powerful. However, that power is arguably what can also make expectations dangerous. While clinging to an expectation can create a sense of movement toward a goal or checkpoint, it does not allow for any “wiggle room”. As with most beliefs, there “is” and there “is not”. Something either meets expectations or it does not, and it can be in these extremes that trouble lurks.
Expectations are not bad at the core. The danger really lies in the words and thoughts that accompany them. For instance, expectations often include words like “should”, “must” or “will”. These verbs indicate necessity and signal an emotional response or sense of duty. Why is that bad? We tend to use expectations to measure success, and it is in that measurement that expectations can allow us to abandon progress. If an expected outcome is not met, it can feel like the entire venture was worthless. “Should,” “must” and “will” create rigorous interpretations of an outcome and, in effect, lessen the likelihood of success and increase the chance of perceived failure. It can quickly become a classic case of “perfection getting in the way of good.”
In addition to expectations often being hard targets to hit, we also find ways to make them harder. In his Psychology Today article The Psychology of Expectations, John A. Johnson, Ph.D. explains that people often have expectations that are based on nothing. In other words, they expect something to happen without any good reason to believe it actually will. The result is that people think about the expectation with the same “black or white” lens described in the previous paragraph, but with no way to actually ensure the outcome. In essence, using the fact that there is an expected outcome as the reason to expect the outcome. It seems illogical when it is written in this way, yet we do it all the time.
Think about Valentine’s Day and the expectation that our significant other will shower us with gifts, or taking the dog out before we go to work expecting it will do its “business” or telling a funny story expecting we get smiles and laughter in response. These are examples of common situations where, if the expected outcome did not occur, we might feel disappointed, sad, frustrated, or even angry. In reality, we had no control over whether the outcome would occur or not, and so when the outcome ends up turning out differently, we have ultimately set ourselves up for failure.
An intention is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” Recently, more and more people in business, education, and even science have turned their attention toward the concept of intentions. In fact, much of what is written and studied about intention today is built on a study of human behavior, and more specifically IcekAjzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior from the 1980s. Ajzen’s theory posited that a person’s attitude and perception of control directly fed the person’s intention. When intention and control aligned, the person’s behavior was more likely to occur as intended. Ajzen’s theory served as the basis for later studies, including the Integrated Behavioral Model, a general behavior theory that attempts to predict behaviors. In both theories, intention and motivation were the most important determinants for predicted behavior. The stronger the intention, the more likely the predicted outcome would occur.
The Difference Between an Expectation and an Intention
To understand the distinction between an Expectation and an Intention, we can go back to how each is defined. An expectation is a belief. An intention is an aim. A belief is rigid. An aim is a fluid. Why is it relevant?
Corporate and executive clients are usually goal-driven. These individuals worked very hard to get to where they are, surviving years of university, the corporate ladder, and sleepless nights on a mission to serve clients. They often view their success in variations of their ability to meet or exceed expectations. Thus it is difficult for these professionals to imagine not using expectations as a goal post. However, corporate and executive clients looking to change their view of success, whether through a career change, a new job, or by incorporating a more balanced approach to work, may also need to change the belief that meeting a preconceived expectation is the only way forward.
Intentions can be confused with goals, but they are actually quite different. Goals are the destination, a result that the client is looking to achieve. An intention is a journey, the way the client would like things to go, as opposed to where they would like to end up. A client may have the goal of finding a new job that brings them more happiness. The intention might be to aim to recognize what “happiness” is to make sure those things which bring happiness continue to be incorporated. More simply, the intention might be to approach each new job opportunity with an open mind. The fluid nature of intentions means that they can, and almost certainly will change. As the intention holder grows and learns, their intentions will grow and adapt, reflecting the holder more accurately at the moment.
While intentions are not meant to replace goals, they can be helpful to clients who are accustomed to the pressure of goal setting. Where a client can focus on the intention, they are better able to make dynamic shifts with everyday challenges and to make choices based on their current selves. Their goals may remain, but the goals become predicated on who they are today. Not only can this action release some pressure, but it also increases the likelihood that goals are based on reality. And realistic goals are achievable goals.
A coach can be very helpful to a client who is haunted by expectations. However, to help the client shift their perspective, the coach must be able to identify when an expectation is hindering the client. A coach should listen for words like “must,” “should,” “have to” or “the only answer.” These words are often associated with an expectation that the client believes applies. The coach should also listen for “it would have been” or “it could have been” when talking about the lost opportunity. The words may indicate that an expectation the client had in the past is clouding how they are thinking about their ability to move forward.
Once an expectation has been identified, a coach can use direct communication to present the expectation to the client for feedback. For instance:
- “You have used the words “have to” several times. What does “have to” mean?”
- “How is the word “should” connected to your goals?”
If a client identifies that there is an expectation of themselves (or the situation) that is holding them back, the coach may ask powerful questions to assist the client in shifting their perspective from expectation to intention. Some possible questions might be:
- “You’ve highlighted an expectation you have of yourself. How might you move forward today?”
- “What intention can you create to achieve this goal?”
- “What can you do now to feel like you are making progress toward where you expect yourself to be?”
Sometimes realizing the expectation will be enough for the client to release it. Other times it may be helpful to ask the client how they can achieve their expectations. When an expectation is plaguing a client, it is more than likely an indicator that the expectation is unrealistic. By asking the client to explain how what is expected is attainable, they will come to see the unrealistic nature of what they are asking of themselves. The coach can then use powerful questioning to help the client create ideas about what they can do to move forward toward their goals.
Even in situations where a client’s expectations are not obviously standing in their way, research shows that setting intentions increases the likelihood of the desired outcome. A coach should look for opportunities to help a client set intentions for their goals and increase the chance that the client will ultimately find success.
References & Inspiration
Johnson, John A., The Psychology of Expectations; Why unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments; Feb. 17, 2018; Psychology Today
Marckx, Michael, Belief is a Thought You Keep Thinking; Don’t You Think?; Dec. 12, 2017; TEDxCSUSM; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRZ_kbq6w9s
Merlin Mathew, King Li, Jennifer Kloosterman, Abbie Albright, Noah Taddesse. Located at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-buffalo-environmentalhealth/. Project: Models and Mechanisms of Public Health.
Nayar, Vineet, The Power of Intent; Feb. 18, 2013; Harvard Business Review; https://hbr.org/2013/02/the-power-of-intent
Wayne, Jonathan, The difference between belief and knowledge, Mar. 20, 2017; the Medium; https://medium.com/perspectivepublications/the-difference-between-belief-and-knowledge-cb909520a265