Managing Expectations: The Psychological Power of Under Promise and Over Deliver!

How many times has someone promised to have something completed for you by a certain date, only to miss that date by a long-shot? If you are like most people, it happens far too often. Whether it is the contractor working on your home, an attorney preparing legal papers on your behalf, a mechanic repairing your car, your staff preparing a report or any host of things for which a timeline is given or expected, why is it that promises of what need to be done are never completed when promised?  I’ve long wondered about this and why so many supposed professionals fail to meet a deadline. While the reasons for lateness vary, there is a very simple psychological tactic professionals can use to make them a hero in the eyes of the poor, unsuspecting client or customer who accepts their promise and patiently awaits the completion of a task.

All business people are familiar with the expression “Under promise; Over deliver”. Yet why do so few use this tactic when it is right there before them and has the capacity to raise them to hero status?  Well. let me explain the psychological aspect of expectancy.  If we are told something is going to take place or be completed at a certain time, we naturally expect it to happen. We count the days and the hours leading up to this date, and we even visualize its completion in our minds. But if the date comes and the thing we’ve expected fails to be completed, it causes a great deal of confusion, anger and inconvenience.

I remember my very first time experiencing this when I was eleven years old. It was late April. My parents called a pool company to replace our pool liner whose time had come. I still remember the older gentleman sitting in our kitchen going over the job with my parents. I remember clear as day my father asking when they would begin, to which the man replied, “Three weeks”. So, in my eleven year old mind, I expected to be in the pool in early June enjoying it with friends like all kids do. Three weeks came and went. Then four, five and finally in mid-July, they came and replaced the liner. For my friends and me, it was devastating– especially during those hot June school days when the pool was your greatest source of refreshing entertainment.

Baring any more childhood disappointments, later in life, I experienced this continuously; just as we all have. Contractors, Engineers, Lawyers, Mechanics, staff members, you name them, all would fail to complete something according to the timeline they provided. And that’s just it; THEY provided the timeline. I merely made the mistake time and again of expecting things completed by the date as promised. So it can be said that each was guilty of over-promising and under-delivering. At least that is how it is perceived by those of us awaiting a completed task.

Here is the reality. In today’s business world, this is the unfortunate state of affairs among everyone. Lawyers are slow in getting requested documents back to other lawyers, therefore delaying timelines. Mechanics are held up by delays in shipments of parts after they, themselves, were promised the part by a specific time. Contractors find themselves in the same predicaments, and also deal with their employees failing to show up to work, and also must deal with unexpected things in other jobs they are doing, therefore delaying all of their work. No matter who it is, everyone is dealing with the same problems; namely all are expecting things when promised. As a result, one delay for one begets another delay for another.

So how do we deal with this? Well, sad to say, I don’t see how we make everyone stick to timelines. But there is something that can be done, and this is the secret. Pay close attention. For those of you who make such promises regarding a date of completion, what ever you think or estimate it will be, double it That’s right, double it. Here’s why. As for the customer or client, we have no way of knowing. We go by what you tell us. So, if you tell me something will be completed by May 15th, rather than May 1st, and it is completed by May 10th, guess what? You’re a hero in my eyes! I am one happy client/customer. And, I wind up telling everyone how you got it done earlier than expected! That is the secret. It’s all about the expectancy on our part. If we expect something at one time and it is late, we get angry. If it’s earlier than expected, we’re thrilled. In essence, you need to prime your client or customers in expecting a timeline you already know to be longer than needed.

I say to double a time frame of expectancy as a general rule. Granted, the pool man was way beyond a double of his time frame. But if you remember that delays happen all of the time to everyone, and if you prime a person’s expectancy to expect it later than estimated, you will have happy, satisfied customers/clients. And that is how to under-promise and over-deliver and always be the hero!

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