Make sure you avoid putting expectations on others

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sticking rigidly to your values may seem a good thing. But putting expectations on others can lead to conflict. It can crush the spirit of those who can’t or won’t comply. Sometimes we need to compromise with others to help everyone reach their goals. 

Need for compromise

We often need to compromise when we and others hold conflicting values.

Then, a bit of common sense and flexibility goes a long way. 

Let’s look at a man who acted according to his conscience. However his rigidity led to problems for everyone. And the fallout is still echoing through the generations.


Rudy’s in the twilight of his career as an accountant. He inherited his father’s strict morality and high standards. However his father was also a gentle man. He listened to and understood his clients’ concerns. And he treated them with respect even if he disagreed with them.

But Rudy can’t forgive anyone who disagrees with him. Instead, he gets nasty. Although he expects respect from others, he doesn’t return the favour. He constantly monitors and rebukes staff if they fall short, and so is seen by them as a hypocrite

Family and workers are held to his high standards at all costs. And what a cost!

Rudy and his wife have three adult sons. Each has reacted to Rudy’s value system in their own way.

1 Caleb: the eldest son

The eldest son Caleb took on Rudy’s approach with gusto. As a real estate agent, he works long hours. He’s now buying out his boss, whom he sees as a “waste of space.” Caleb believes you’re a failure if you don’t put in 100%.

He criticises himself and others mercilessly for mistakes. And he has no idea what forgiveness means. Instead, he pursues his wife and kids, berating them for minor offences. His wife’s always on alert for signs he’s turning nasty.

Occasionally Caleb remembers when Rudy punished him, but he quickly buries these memories of childhood fear. And he barely admits to putting rigid expectations on his family. After all, the kids need a firm hand, don’t they? Otherwise they’ll get out of control.

Putting expectations on others

Unfortunately Caleb can’t see how abusive he is. He believes he has the right to demand complete obedience. And this justifies him punishing others because they don’t reach his standards. He thinks it will make them try harder to do the “right thing.”

Faulty excuses

Rudy and Caleb both say they’re upholding positive values. In reality, they choose to act improperly to achieve their goals. They excuse harshness as necessary to force others to reach excellence.

And they don’t question the ethics of coercing others to comply with what they want. In addition, they have little awareness of their fear of losing control.

Instead, they’re consumed with rage at the thought of rebellion. The fragility of their control could be exposed if others stand up to them. These fears probably drive much of their bullying behaviour.

2 Wylie: the middle son

In contrast to Caleb, middle brother Wylie is an expert at evasion. He’s never learned self-discipline or responsibility. Or developed any motivation apart from the avoidance of unpleasantness.

Superficial charm and humour saved him from Rudy’s rage many times. And as an adult he still uses these tactics to avoid responsibility.

Over the years he’s skipped from job to job. Now, he’s a master manipulator of others. And partners and colleagues alike are sick of his games.

Being one step ahead of others helped him survive as a kid. But now these manipulative tactics are ruining his life.

3 Eamon: the youngest son

According to Caleb and Wylie, youngest brother Eamon is weird.

Eamon values connections with others, and volunteers in an animal shelter. He’s socially more at ease than either Caleb or Wylie. As a primary school teacher, he fosters confidence in his students. And being open-minded, he learns something from everyone he meets.

Eamon knows both his father Rudy and Caleb think he’s weak. Wishy-washy. Sensitive. But he rejects their assessment.

And Eamon hates the way Rudy and Caleb act towards others. He still has vivid memories of being humiliated by Rudy. And he’s particularly worried about Caleb’s kids. He feels responsible for watching over their well-being.

In fact, he’s anonymously reported Caleb to the Child Abuse Hotline.

Valuing self-care

Although Eamon values family, he won’t put himself in the firing line. So he limits time at family gatherings that Rudy or Caleb attend.

His own mental health is more important.

When arguments start, he either leaves or slips out to play with the kids. That way, he maintains his values of kindness and respect for others. And he protects himself as well.

Living up to his values

Unlike Rudy and Caleb, Eamon lives up to his stated values. He’s well-integrated as a person and has few internal conflicts. Of course he’s sad his family is dysfunctional.

But he’s accepted that that’s the way it is. The best he can do is live according to his own values, and protect himself and his nephews. And he’s determined that he won’t be putting expectations on others the way his father did.

Can people change?

Is it too late for Rudy, Caleb or even Wylie to change? Or are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes forever?

In reality, it’s never too late for anyone to change. Often a crisis will jolt an individual into greater awareness. They realise suddenly how they’re affecting others.

For Caleb, that may be a visit from child protection authorities. At first he’ll be shocked and angry. But if he can stay open-minded, he may understand how abusive he’s been. He may see how his rigidly putting expectations on others has hurt his children. Maybe he could learn new ways of setting limits with empathy.

On the other hand, he may still claim the right to treat others as he wishes. If so, there’s little chance he’ll change. He’ll continue to overemphasise obedience and excellence. And these values will outweigh the value Caleb places on his children’s well-being.

How about you?

Are you willing to look at the values you hold?

Do you hold values from a broad spectrum of life? And do you apply your values in a helpful way? Or do you assume the right to impose your values on everyone? Do you allow your fears to overrule your better judgement?

If so, your values are probably not at fault.

Beliefs about values

The problem is in how you’re applying your values. A range of unhelpful beliefs is getting in the way. These beliefs influence you to act in inflexible or unreasonable ways.

So be courageous. Take stock of how you’re behaving. Make sure you don’t use values to justify unhelpful behaviours. And avoid putting expectations on others.

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