ISO: Mindreading Employee

How great would it be if employees and colleagues could read our minds? We no longer would be disappointed or upset when our expectations weren’t met because EVERYONE. WOULD. ALREADY. KNOW. WHAT. WE. WANTED.

Except, here in the real world, most people can’t read minds. It can be challenging to be trying to manage 1,278 things and THEN try to explain to an employee or colleague exactly what you want done, especially when you might not be so sure yourself.

However, it takes a LOT of effort and energy – on your part and the part of your employees or colleagues – to try to figure out what the expectation actually is.

Without setting expectations, other people don’t know what you want. They have to spend time and energy figuring out how to make you happy. They might get it right – but if they don’t get it right, you get frustrated because they aren’t doing what you want.

Your colleagues can also become frustrated because they don’t know how to make you happy. They might get to a point where they stop trying. And you will be ridiculously frustrated because they can’t read your mind, which makes it harder to articulate what you want.

And the bottom line here is this: everyone involved spends a TON of time and energy trying to understand the other person, rather than focusing on the actual work that needs to get done.

See how this could easily become a circle of doom?

Communication is Key to Setting Expectations

One of the best parts about my job is that I get to listen to the struggles of both business owners and employees, and make suggestions about how issues can be resolved. It’s never easy, but once people start opening up to different ideas and perspectives, the transformation can be pretty amazing.

Communication is something we take for granted. If you are lucky, you grew up with strong communicators in your family or community, or maybe you had an exceptional teacher, boss, or took a class somewhere along the way. Most of us don’t have that luxury, so we replicate the communication that we have experienced in our lives, which for all the reasons listed above, may not be that good.

This is not your fault! It’s OK that your communication skills might not be as strong as they could be. The first step is recognizing it. The second step is actually doing something to work on it – which is why you are still reading this blog post. (Congrats to you!)

I’ve spent time on both sides of the ‘desk’: for years I worked as an administrative assistant. Administrative assistants are definitely the underappreciated geniuses of any organization, and I say that in as un-self-serving-way as possible. It’s a hard gig! Very often, administrative assistants help multiple ‘bosses’, have a set of tasks that needs to be done every day, often in a time-sensitive manner, without fail, all while dealing with whatever needs and ‘emergencies’ that may arise on any given day. This job – and many others that I’ve had – have made me appreciate what it’s like to not have power or authority over much of anything, yet still needing to show up and do a job every day.

I’ve also spent time on the other side of the proverbial desk – both being a manager and a supervisor. This is ALSO a challenging job – one that has set tasks that need to be done every day, but often get regularly and routinely interrupted by ‘emergencies’ as well. The difference being a manager, of course, is the power that accompanies the job title. This power is imperative to recognize and understand if you want to be a great manager. The power needs to be used for good – and for building up your employees – rather than as a wedge that somehow makes you different than everyone else.

Setting Expectations = Worth The Effort

Setting expectations is a way to wield your power for good. The old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ holds so true in this instance.

Employees who know what your expectations are can better meet them. Or let you know when your expectations will not be met for whatever reason.

Knowing that you expect on a given day empowers employees to plan accordingly, keeping you from needing to constantly direct – and by extension, be perceived as a micro-manager.

Knowing expectations is empowering: it gives others the power they need to be successful in their jobs. That’s a big deal and something not to take lightly.

Be Specific In Communicating Expectations

Try these tips:

  • What needs to be done at the end of the day? Work backwards. Make a list of all the steps and processes.
    • Delegate the steps.
    • Who can help? How can collaborations be formed?
    • As you are delegating, what training do others need to be successful? [Checklist, job shadowing, etc.]

  • Be honest with yourself: what do you expect from each employee? Is it realistic? Necessary?
    • Punctual attendance? Or actually arriving 15 minutes early?
    • Formal email communication with clients? Informal email communication with clients?
    • For example, do you expect that everyone is in the office from 8-4:30 PM, and get annoyed when this doesn’t happen?

Is it possible the employees can accomplish some of their tasks when not in a desk from 8-4:30 every day? Even if that’s not the way it’s always been done? Or do they really need to be on-site during this time?

There’s no right-or-wrong answer! However, you need to be honest with yourself about your expectations – and why you have them before you can clearly articulate these expectations to others.

  •  WHY do you have these expectations? Describe them to your employees and colleagues! The more they can understand why you have particular expectations, the better they will be prepared to meet them:
    • “Our business stands apart from others in town because of our attention to customer service. Our customers have come to expect that the front desk staff will have a company polo and khaki pants, and offer them coffee or water, with a smile, when they enter the office. You might not always feel like smiling or being talkative, but this is so key to keeping people coming back here versus going to a competitor across town.”

    • This works because you:
      • Describe WHAT you expect specifically.
      • ACKNOWLEDGE the employee’s feelings about the matter.
      • Describe WHY it matters.

Employees: get your colleagues to be SPECIFIC WITH EXPECTATIONS by asking for the following:

  • Clarification on job tasks.
    • What do you need to do every day?
    • Are their things you aren’t sure of? Need more information or other help to accomplish the task(s)? Are there checklists or written processes that you can refer to? If not, suggest that you and your colleagues work on creating one together.


  • Why are each of these steps important?
    • “I want to understand this process so that I can best execute my responsibilities when I’m working. Can you tell me more about how we got to this point in the business?”
    • “How does this step/process impact other people in the business?”
    • Knowing this information will help you understand why a task is important – and might give you ideas for how to improve your work or the process in the future.


It might take some time and practice, but being specific and explicit about your expectations will give EVERYONE more space to be forward thinking in the workplace. You might not be surrounded by mind-readers, but what you can accomplish will still be magical when you take the time to set expectations!





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