Are You Harboring Stealth Expectations?

By Rachel Verlik, PCC.

Imagine this. You have had a conversation with your boss about your career interests, and you are both on the same page that you are ready for additional responsibilities. While you haven’t articulated a timeline or what those responsibilities are, you are in agreement that it will line you up well for forward career progression at the company. 

The following week, a colleague that started around the same time as you gets assigned a project that would be perfect for you and what you just discussed with your boss. It is high visibility in the organization and will tee up your colleague nicely for promotion.  

You feel this should have been yours. You are disappointed and resentful. How could your boss not think to ask you about this? You assumed that they would reach out to you when an opportunity arose. Sure, you didn’t talk about it, but…

Might you be harboring stealth expectations?   

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown discusses “stealth expectations.” She defines a stealth expectation as “A desire or expectation that exists outside our awareness and typically includes a dangerous combination of fear and magical thinking. Stealth expectations almost always lead to disappointment, resentment, and more fear.”

Like a sneaky ninja, stealth expectations show up in our day-to-day lives when we least expect it. Where? When we thought that a direct report would deliver a report in a certain format and update you if it couldn’t be done in time. When a team member missed a key opportunity to land a sale with a premier client. When our spouse made plans to go out with friends and you wanted them to help you with something around the house at that time — and didn’t share that. When a colleague takes on a project that you were planning to tackle, just after you finished this one.

At the core of stealth expectations is a trend of not sharing the feelings, measures of success, expected results, or way forward. There is a good dose of “should” in there — “He should know better.” “My staff should know I wanted it done a certain way.” “They should know the client needed this at noon.” “My boss should know that I wanted that high visibility project as that would be good for my career.”   

What might the anecdote to stealth expectations be? The following are some ideas to help you manage stealth expectations.

  • First and foremost, pause and identify what your expectations may be in any given situation. How do you know this is what you are expecting? How do you know if expectations are not being met? What is your body telling you, i.e., physical cues, if you start slipping into resentment and disappointment?
  • Ask yourself what you wish you knew the answer to that has not been agreed upon. Do you have a question that needs to be asked? Do you have an expectation that you would like to respectfully share?

Fire your “shoulds.” People are not mind readers — as much as we would like them to be! Your shoulds are riding shotgun with you, telling you what you need to be feeling and expecting. Time to drop them off on the side of the road. 

Articulate your expectations. Identify what you are anticipating and level set expectations. Check  your stories, your assumptions. Bounce these off of reality. You may find that over time, articulating your expectations and truly reality checking and communicating them will lead to less resentment and disappointment.

To learn more about how executive coaching can help you eliminate stealth expectations and improve your leadership and communication skills, contact Rachel for a consultation.