Why is it that the holiday season — a time to reconnect with family and take a break from work — causes so many of us stress? Why do we fret about getting the Christmas ham just right, navigating contentious political conversations at the dinner table, and (if we’re hosting others) keeping our home sparkling clean?
If we look at this issue from a Project Management perspective, it’s an easily diagnosable problem: stakeholder expectations that don’t align with reality. In this case, the project is making it through the holiday season, and each of us involved (family, friends, significant others, service workers we interact with) is a stakeholder.
Unlike with formal projects, however, stakeholders in Project Holiday rarely spell out (or are even aware of) their expectations for the project. We say we “want to bring the family together” — which, of course, we do. What we don’t say is that we’d really prefer if family would not bring up politics at the dinner table, or our expectation that the cousins volunteer to help with dishes. So when Uncle Paul turns to the conversation to foreign affairs while passing the green beans and the cousins run off to watch TV right after dinner, we’re doubly upset. We’re upset, first, because our unstated expectations for the project have not been met. But also, we’re upset because we’re upset – we’re supposed to be having a good time, after all!
Just as a Project Management perspective can help us diagnose the problem, it can also help us solve it. “Managing” our family members to meet our expectations is probably not realistic (or enjoyable for anyone). What we can do, however, is manage our own expectations. The first step is becoming aware of what your expectations are. Then, we need to communicate these to the other stakeholders in Project Holiday and ask them to share their expectations for the project, too. You might not be able to have this “project planning” conversation with every in-law and cousin visiting from out of town. But you can have it with your household, or whoever the other key players are who you’ll be relying on to help make this project a success.
These conversations about expectations might bring some conflicts to the surface: better to deal with these early on. To grow and learn from conflicts while also resolving them, it takes more than just knowing about your own expectations. It takes skill to also dive into another person’s motivations, expectations, drives, and desires in a way that brings about a deeper appreciation and understanding of all parties. It is this level of depth that moves “managing expectations” out of the realm of manipulations and into a significantly positive growth experience for all. So, while some conflict may be inevitable around the holidays, its impact on us and others can become a positive, relationship-building experience.
For more information about Cheetah Learning and Project Management course offerings, please visit https://www.cheetahlearning.com/wp/.