Possibly one of the most frustrating things about being married is when I’m ‘expected’ to possess the power of ESP. My wife is annoyed about something, or she wants me to do something, or…and I’m completely unaware of any expectation having been put on me.

Which means I have no way to actually meet that expectation in any fashion other than by random chance.

To be fair, I am 100% guilty of this as well.

Your Team

Guess what? Your team doesn’t have ESP either. Neither do your clients. While we know that people don’t possess ESP, we all suffer from the Illusion of Transparency.

The illusion of transparency is a tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which their personal mental state is known by others. Another manifestation of the illusion of transparency (sometimes called the observer’s illusion of transparency) is a tendency for people to overestimate how well they understand others’ personal mental states. – Wikipedia

This means that when you’re trying to show your team that you’re actively listening to them, the possibility exists that they may actually interpret your ‘listening’ face as your ‘super annoyed angry face’ instead.

Which means that when you think you’ve conveyed the importance of a project to your employees through your tone, your intended message likely wasn’t conveyed.

But the client didn’t say …

Yes, in an ideal world the client would tell you exactly what their expectations are for a project and you wouldn’t have to try and hit what feels like a randomly moving target. But that’s not our reality.

The truth is, there is always something left unsaid on both sides and if you want to really meet your client’s goals — perhaps resulting in them going on about how awesome you are — you need to ask some very pointed questions about what project success looks like for them.

I start this in my initial client email when I ask:

What will happen to your business when we finish $feature? How will it move your business to the ‘next level’?
How are we going to measure the success of $feature?

Then I use those things to develop my my estimate for my client. We go over the goals that we will accomplish and continually refer back to the goals to assess whether we’re meeting them or not. We assess whether they were even the right goals to be shooting for or not.


The only ‘remedy’ for misguided expectations I’ve been able to use with any success is a weekly debrief for projects. When a team is involved, we do one debrief with the internal team and another with the client and the team.

We show the work accomplished during the week and talk about how it meets the goals as we refer back to the estimate provided to the client.

This gives us a regular check-in with clients and a regular re-establishment of the goals.

It’s not foolproof but it’s much better than unstated expectations.

photo credit: weesen cc