Disappointed expectations are a major conflict driver.
When a person wants to be something and is denied that right, expectations are blunted.
When they want to do something and are blocked, expectations are disappointed.
When they want to have something and are deprived, expectations are crushed.
In all such cases, conflict is inevitable.
All too often these disappointed expectations have not been expressed. They lurk beneath the surface as unstated assumptions.
These unexpressed assumptions create problems for others — as they do not know what we expect of them.
When they do not know our expectations, it is easy for them to inadvertently disappoint those expectations.
This happens because we fail to express our expectations clearly — or perhaps we do not express them at all. Too often we assume our expectations are obvious: they simply represent “the way things should be.”
In many instances, expectations emerge from a faulty sense of entitlement. A party in conflict may say, “I simply expect to receive what I deserve, what I’m owed.”
However, the person with whom they have a conflict may not recognize their assumed entitlement. This leads to conflict.
In Taming the Wolf, a peacemaking manual, I present techniques used to clarify unstated expectations, techniques used to address disappointed expectations.
You may want to consult that broader discussion as, in this post, I will focus on one source of unrecognized expectations: a party’s worldview, a party’s view of reality.
A worldview charts what a person believes is real and what they believe is unreal. A worldview shapes how a person views life.
A worldview might be considered to be a personal philosophy — a manner of making sense of existence.
Worldviews automatically generate expectations. They shape how we expect reality to unfold. And assumptions regarding how we should be treated are buried within our worldview. Worldviews are major sources of unstated expectations that drive conflict.
Such “reality-based” expectations include basic physical factors rarely disputed. For example, an individual expects gravity to hold his feet on the ground. He expects the sun will rise in the east.
Such core physical facts, however, are rarely a source of conflict; rather, conflict usually arises from unstated expectations that extend beyond basic physics.
For example, people hold views regarding the nature of man. Some believe a human person is inherently a spiritual being. Others believe humans are simply and solely biological entities.
Some believe a conscious soul exercises free will, while others believe in biological determinism. Views differ regarding the origin and nature of consciousness.
Parties in conflict hold varying views regarding “how people should treat one another.”
They view relationships from different perspectives and they vary in how they understand the nature of love.
They do not always agree on axioms that guide social interactions.
Worldviews are essentially subjective perspectives, malleable and subject to change. As they change so do a person’s expectations.
This is good news. It means mediators can facilitate movement away from entrenched positions. They can overcome impasse.
When mediators first seek to identify conflict drivers of conflict they are caught up in a whirlpool of subjective narratives.
Faced with this confusion, they assist the parties as they unearth the hidden assumptions buried in their worldviews, assumptions that generate unexpressed expectations.
Thus, peacemakers conduct “reality checks” that unearth assumptions masquerading behind the phrase: “everybody knows that is just the way it is.”
After all, from the party’s perspective, they’re not harboring hidden expectations—they’re simply following the dictates of reality. Peacemakers help the parties check the veracity of their assumptions and expectations.
Peacemakers shine light on hidden assumptions and unexpressed expectations. They shape a common “reality space” in which the parties negotiate. They help the parties fashion settlement agreements that satisfy realistic expectations.
When you, as a peacemaker, discover unexpressed expectations generating conflict, ask yourself:
“Do I really understand how this person is viewing reality?