I nearly had a full-on temper tantrum the other night. For real, I thought I was going to explode all over everyone, and it was all because of some seriously unmet expectations.

It was the fifth evening of a fabulous vacation: Beautiful resort, perfect weather, and lots of exciting fun combined with plenty of “chill” time. Up to this point, it had been a pretty terrific experience! (Except that one taxi driver who gave us motion sickness, as he jerked us along speeding up and slowing down – because he was falling asleep! But that’s for another day.)  Anyway, we had been looking forward to our last night’s dinner, at our favorite Italian restaurant.

It was our friends’ first time there, and we had really talked it up.  “Lovely venue, always the best service, and every course of the meal will be delicious!” This time the experience epitomized unmet expectations, and could have easily deteriorated into serious conflict.  It’s always a mistake to come between hungry tourists and their food!

It started with getting a table. We were told in advance we could not make a reservation, but upon arrival were asked if we had one.  Hmm. Since we didn’t, it would be a thirty-minute wait.  Fine, but an hour later when we reminded them we were still waiting, they weren’t empathetic and advised it would be “a few more minutes.”  Off to a rocky start.

We finally got seated, but quickly realized the service that night would be, well, non-existent.  In fact, the staff appeared to actively avoid eye contact, thus eliminating any chance of interaction with guests.  A full glass of wine had been spilled next to my chair, which the staff stepped around, but never considered cleaning up.

We sat for well over (another) hour with zero attention. Not even an offer to re-fill our water!  Thankfully, a basket eventually arrived with four tiny rolls. They were devoured instantly, and later it felt as if we should have savored those little rolls.

For a while the lack of service was not a big deal, but as the minutes ticked-on the good will drained out of each of us. Even my bubbly, “life of the party” friend couldn’t keep our energy up. Everything had gotten annoying, and I retreated into my own thoughts…

As agitated as I am, can I possibly practice what I teach or am I just going to completely unload on someone?”

It was close, but I didn’t unload.  What I did do was remember what I ask my clients to do when they are upset:

  1. Acknowledge what you are feeling.
  2. Identify the unmet expectations behind the feelings, and decide whether or not they are reasonable. (Mine were!)
  3. Consider your options and make a plan.

I tell my clients how quickly they can move through those three steps and regain their peace and clarity. I confirmed the truth of my proclamation that night.  In a short minute I:

  • Acknowledged I was feeling hungry, tired, annoyed, under-valued, disappointed, and a little embarrassed – all rolling up into anger.
  • Identified my unmet expectations stemmed from my expectations for outstanding service and lots of delicious food.
  • Considered the options and made a plan. (We actually made our plan as a group):
    • Inquire as to how much longer it would be (again).
    • Set a time limit for how much longer we would wait.
    • If no dinner within that limit, we would go to the all-u-can-eat buffet!
    • Let the resort management know how poor our experience had been.

I was still starving and tired, but despite the level of ongoing unmet expectations, I was much more peaceful. We even started to see the humor in the situation – although I suspect that might have been the hysteria setting in.

In the end, we didn’t have to go to the all-u-can-eat buffet; the food was quite good; and I didn’t destroy all credibility as a conflict resolution specialist with a full-blown temper tantrum.  Yay.

Call or email us today for more information on identifying and dealing with unmet expectations.

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