"So I'll get a massive write up with a picture, all our key messages and stockist information then?," asks the hopeful client.
"Well, not quite, but maybe, but it's unlikely, but we'll try, we'll really try," says the desperate to please PR.
"Great, looking forward to seeing that."
This ever happened to you? No? Well you're lucky and very much better at managing expectations than I have been at times in my career.
It's easy enough to get into the trap of not managing expectations because as communicators we are pre-wired to be positive about everything, we sell good will, we trade in optimism. Being realistic is at best boring, at worst damaging.
I think there are three fundamentals you can put in place to stop this spiral of bad expecation management taking hold and I say this from experience.
1. Be really clear at the outset
When you explain what you are going to deliver, be it to a client, a journalist, a blogger or your boss, make sure they are really clear about what to expect. I did a course in counselling and one of the most valuable things I learnt was to paraphrase. By that I mean repeat back the pertinent points.
You need to get whomever you are working with to repeat back to you what they can expect and if they have misinterpreted it, that's your opportunity to clarify.
2. Don't be afraid to say no
I'm guilty of this, I HATE saying no and so I tend to say yes and then say no later, which is frankly just really irritating. In my more assertive moments I'll say no upfront. In a polite and useful way, by perhaps offering an alternative solution rather than just saying 'no I can't help you.
So in response to the client question above you might say 'No. That's not going to happen for these reasons (xyz) however what will happen is this (abc).' No one will hate you for saying no to something that is not possible, but saying yes then not delivering is a different story.
3. Keep them informed
Talk throughout the project. This helps to take out any surprises which are almost always the reason resentment builds up. It's also the opportunity for the client/journlist etc to say that they want things done a different way which allows you to clarify once again what is expected.
Positive optimism is still my default setting and I do have to try hard to manage expectations, my own as much as theirs. Perhaps if Nick Clegg thought about this when he laid out his manifesto he wouldn't have students burning effigies of him right now...just a thought.
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