Expectations. They can be:

       🎨 Realistic or unrealistic.

       🎨 Met or dashed.

       🎨 Great or small.

Expectations were exceeded and dashed on a Shakespearean scale on Australia’s election night this past weekend.

While the stakes weren’t as high, managing expectations was upper most in the minds of the group I worked with on election day.

 ‘We need to know the boundaries. We need clear parameters,’ they said.

The topic was complex and affected everyone in the city in some way. Now and in the future.

“If we know what’s up for discussion, what we can have a say on, we won’t be disappointed. And we won’t waste everyone’s time.”

So, the parameters were set. What was on and off the table was explained, verbally, visually and in writing. In preparatory meetings in the lead up to the day, and again at the session – frequently.

It was like the group was given a prepared canvas to work on, like the ones you buy from any art store. The size was pre-determined and it was already stretched and primed. But it was blank.

They were also given acrylic paints, paintbrushes and a few other tools.

All they had to do was decide what to paint and in what style. They had to use the canvas, paints and paintbrushes that were on the table.

It wasn’t painting by numbers and it wasn’t going to be easy.

The boundaries seemed clear. Yet that didn’t meet one person’s expectations.

She wanted to create the canvas from scratch. Assemble the wooden frame, stretch the cotton and apply a few coats of gesso* to ready it for painting.

At the start of every day, and almost every activity, her hand would shoot up (just like in primary school) and she’d insist that the group build and prepare their own canvas.

The group talked about subject matter, composition and colour scheme. Some had started to mix their own paints.

But every time the group inched closer to applying paint, she’d raise her hand.

“We need to talk about the canvas. This one’s not good enough. How do we know it will last the distance? What will it look like hung at an exhibition?”

The frustration in the room was palpable. They put down their paints politely. It was small studio and they will have to work together to complete the painting in the months ahead.

She had a real bee in her bonnet and this bee was as big as a wasp.

We twisted ourselves up in knots to show that the group could not create its own canvas from scratch. But it was like we were speaking another language.

While I believe ‘talking’ is action and leads to breakthroughs, in this case, progress came through the doing. We eased away from talking about frameworks (canvases), resources (paints) and tools (paintbrushes) and jumped in to have a go.

The momentum of the group proved irresistible, even for Ms Bonnet. She joined in the lively discussions about colour and brushstrokes and at one stage, I think I even saw her finger painting.

Next time I encounter unrealistic expectations, a little metaphor like this might help. I’m curious to hear what metaphor works for you when managing expectations. 

*Gesso is a thin layer of white paint & binder mixture applied to prepare or ‘prime’ a surface for painting.