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Understanding the Role of Expectations in Conflict

March 1, 2019
Every party in a conflict has unmet expectations. While you may think or feel a conflict is all about whatever the other person is or is not doing, the first […]

Every party in a conflict has unmet expectations. While you may think or feel a conflict is all about whatever the other person is or is not doing, the first step towards a successful resolution is understanding what is going on for you that is creating this conflict.

As Project Management Professionals (PMPs), we learn the critical importance of managing stake holder expectations. Managing expectations, though, feels a bit like manipulation (which has some seriously negative connotations). While it is important to understand another’s expectations, managing them is a far more difficult task. Sometimes even an impossible task. But in the world of projects, it’s an absolutely crucial task.

I’ve been on both ends of this — as the customer of a project, and as the project manager working with an extremely unrealistic customer. In both situations, having a clear contract with very detailed descriptions of what is going to be delivered and when is the imperative to effectively manage expectations.

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Continuing to review progress on milestone completions, having agreements about what will be accomplished by specific dates, having a plan on how risks and changes are being addressed, and keeping the lines of communication open with every stakeholder, are the key activities of the PM. A well-run project has all this going on — even though it may not be obvious to a casual observer. A project in chaos most likely does not have this going on. So if you’re involved in a project that appears to be running smoothly, realize that it’s far more than just luck that created this situation.

But what stimulated me to write this, and why right now? A few months ago we came out of the midst of a holiday season. And each of us has unique expectations of what we feel we should be experiencing during the holidays. Quite often these expectations are not in alignment with what is really going on.

Take for example, if you have always done Thanksgiving with your immediate family, but this year that didn’t happen because you weren’t able to make it, or maybe one of your parents passed away. You might be feeling out of sorts. Or maybe you feel it’s not appropriate to discuss hot button topics at holiday events, yet you have to share those events with others who feel free to express their opinions on divisive topics.

While feeling less than stellar when these things happen is a very normal reaction, it still is not all that comfortable. The less you deal with your unmet expectations, the more likely these feelings can creep their way into your other interactions. In Cheetah’s 20 hour online Communicating Through Conflict program, Cheetah students learn how to understand their own expectations FIRST before placing conditions on another to meet their needs. (For more information, please visit Even if the other "starts" the conflict.

To grow and learn from conflict, while also resolving conflicts, it takes more than just knowing about your expectations. It takes skill to also dive into another’s motives, 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 manipulative realm and into a significantly positive growth experience for all. So while some conflict may be inevitable around the holidays, and at other times, it’s impact on us and others can become a positive, relationship building experience.

Unmet expectations are the source of all conflict. Knowing your part is the first step in coming to a mutually agreeable resolution.

This is the purpose of Cheetah’s online Communicating Through Conflict program — to turn destructive conflict into a positive growth experience for all parties. We’ve been teaching this course for 23 years now. It’s just another tool in our Cheetah Students’ bag of tricks that helps those who take it rise to the top of their industry (and have better personal relationships too).

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management (PM) to the masses. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 50,000 people have become "Cheetahs" using Cheetah Learning’s innovative PM and accelerated learning techniques. Michelle also developed the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profiling to help students master how to use their unique strengths for learning, doing projects, and negotiating. Michelle is recognized by the Project Management Institute as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world. For more information, visit To read my business-oriented blogs, please visit Cheetah Learning Blog at,, and read my columns here in ISE magazine at