How do you manage yours or someone else’s unrealistic expectations.

Are you the one making unrealistic expectations of yourself?

• Do you feel stressed when things don’t go according to plan?

• Does your perfectionism, need to do it right, hold you back?

Fear of failure and a culture of blame will result in a work environment where demands are not met with an appropriate or realistic response.

Common signs of unrealistic expectations

When you or others have unrealistic expectations of the work involved or your ability, it shows up as:

• Feeling overwhelmed. Too many requests and demands on your time results in you or others overestimating your ability or underestimating how much time to complete the tasks.

• Frequently work long hours … outside of normal work hours - results in working evenings, weekends and even while on holiday.

• Feeling under pressure to get the work done so you work long hours to make it happen. You think it’s your fault you’re not working productively or effectively so this leads to stress, burnout and absenteeism.

• Lack of resources - time, people, skills, knowledge … sometimes a temporary situation. You’re short-staffed, so the pressure is on to stay productive and still meet deadlines. Deadlines are set with unrealistic expectations or put undue pressure to get the results when this isn’t taken into account.

• Poor communication. When communication isn’t clear or effective assumptions are made. Lack of communication creates mismatches in expectation and misunderstandings that go unchallenged.

• Unclear roles and responsibility for the tasks involved. Not maintaining good communication through the process. Set and forget and then surprised when results aren’t as expected. You agree when you’re not clear about what’s being asked or don’t want to admit to a lack of skill, knowledge or time.

• Micro-managing. Constantly checking in, keeping tabs or requesting updates results in a lack of trust and confidence, and wastes time.

What to do when set unrealistic expectations

Firstly, assume positive intent. In most situations people aren’t out to make your life difficult or put you under undue pressure.

Then ...

Create better boundaries around your work.

Let them know if the expectation, project or task steps over your boundaries with an unrealistic timeframe.

What’s the impact if you do or don’t do this? They don't know if you’re already working on several projects. Taking on additional responsibility impacts your personal time so you’ll have to work late or over the weekend in order to get the work done.

Maintain a healthy balance between work and life and value your time, so you don’t get stressed and burn out.

Don’t say yes

... until you know what you’re saying ‘yes’ to.

Say if you’re not sure how much is involved or how long it will take.

When you haven’t done the task before, it’s more difficult to set realistic expectations. So ...

• Give your best guess.

• Get to work.

• Adjust, update as you find out more. Get closer to what’s achievable and realistic.

Just ask

Ask for help and support before it's too late.

Get support or ask for support from others in your team, your colleagues, if you don’t have the time or capacity. Spread the load. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.


Give or ask for feedback before it becomes a problem. A default response of ‘sure, I can do that’, becomes a problem if the expectations are unrealistic or not clearly understood.

Provide as much information as possible in advance and an alternate solution or more realistic timeframe instead.

Communicate often and early in an effective way and don't micro-manage. This builds confidence and trust. You’re less likely to have unrealistic expectations set the next time.