Are you previewing expectations?

When my son was little, he would constantly ask with wide-eyed worry,

“What’s going to happen next?”

If we were travelling or doing things together as a family, the question was particularly unappeasable. At Christmas he couldn’t bear to leave presents unwrapped under the tree…the idea of surprise and  ‘not knowing’ was far too stressful. By Christmas day, all his presents had been peeked at, opened or simply disappeared!!!

Recently I heard a story about an associate’s son who (like mine) is on the autistic spectrum. As a little boy, when he was presented with his morning breakfast of scrambled eggs, he would slide his arm across the table and eggs would hit the walls of her kitchen and end up in a mess on the floor.  At her wits end she consulted a behaviorist who simply said,

‘Nancy, make them again and tell him that you’re going to give him his eggs before you place them in front of him.’  She did as the behaviorist advised and was shocked to see her son pick up his fork and begin eating.  It could not have been this easy, she thought.

Thereafter, she would calmly let him know what was about to occur – what he was going to be expected to do, what the meal was, etc. and as if by magic, he accepted his breakfast and the issue was resolved. Her behaviorist called it ‘previewing expectations’.

This story resonates strongly with me, not only because of the experience I had with my own son, but because I see this all the time in my work. Previewing expectations is something we should all be doing in our communication with clients.

Time and again photographers tell me about arrangements they made with people without a clear outline of what they’re providing, and then (surprise surprise) the disagreements, the confusion, the ridiculous demands, and the disappointments that ensued.

One photographer told me that a client (who was a friend) had been repetitively asking for more and more and more shots, that he had spent weeks editing for her and she was never happy. That she had barely paid anything and yet he was exhausted by it and why couldn’t she see how much he had already done?

A few years ago I wrote a post about the sticky subject of shooting for friends. This seems to be the area most likely to cause friction. So many people seem to avoid telling their friends what they’re going to provide and what the value is.

Friend or no friend (and it’s amazing how one becomes the other after a ‘favour’ has been procured and expectations were not previewed) being up front with anyone you’re about to do business with is crucial.

‘But they only had $1,000’ said someone to me the other day, ‘so I said I would do it. Surely that’s clear!’

What is ‘do it?’. What does that even mean? What will you provide? At what point will their dollar contribution end and additional costs be required?

An estimate is the perfect opportunity to preview expectations, and let the client know what to expect before, during and after the shoot, when to expect it, and very importantly, what you will be expecting from them, and so forth. And even if it is a favour, show them what they are getting, how it will proceed and what the limitations are.

Spontaneity is awesome but in business clarity is vital. Just like my son, we all feel better when we understand what’s going to happen next.

The associate who inspired this post is Nancy Michaels– an inspirational keynote speaker who uses her personal story of overcoming immense adversity to motivate audiences and organizations to take stock of their health—both personal and business.