Category Archives: Expectations

Wow of the Week: Play it Up

We all know the phrase, “play it down,” for making less of an emotion or situation than we might otherwise be feeling. And I think this can be a useful reminder to ourselves when considering how much time and energy we want to devote to a feeling or person or circumstance.

That said, there is a lot to be said, both personally and professionally for “playing it up.” For making more of an occurrence than we might originally have thought, or been hardwired to do; and for quickly acknowledging our participation in a “no-fault” situation.

Let me give you an example: Recently, I had an exchange with a conference coordinator with whom I was working on an event. When I arrived at the venue, I discovered she had not ordered me a lavalier microphone—my sole choice was the mic attached to the podium. “Well,” she said, “We’ll just have to make the best of it.”

We? The last time I checked she wasn’t the one who was going to be trapped behind a hunk of fake wood for an hour while trying to wow.

Now I understand her thinking—and the thinking of many peoplewhen a dropped ball results in an inconvenience/mistake/accident: their idea is that their minimizing it will lead to others minimizing it.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that you will get a lot further if you play it up, rather than playing it down. In this instance, I would have been far more impressed had she said, “I am so sorry—this is my fault. Unfortunately there’s nothing that can be done about the technology now, but is there anything I can do with the room set up, or the book signing area, that will make you more comfortable?”

Within the corporate world, I always recommend customer service departments play it up, rather than down—overcompensating for even the smallest complaints. Why? Because while most departments respond quickly to high stakes situations, many respond poorly, or not at all, to circumstances that are less than dire. The trouble with this choice is that these disgruntled customers can now take their grievances to the virtual streets, setting up URL’s such as or creating a music video about poor luggage handling along the lines of  a musical review over a broken guitar that has received over 500,000 hits on YouTube, and reversed United Airlines’ position on baggage handling. Or, speaking from my own experience, blasting out to their 3,000 Twitter follows when the customer service rep at their local big box store greets their tale of a broken appliance with, “Whatever…”

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’ve dropped the ball, and/or there’s no clear right or wrong, step up: play it up—meet, and perhaps even exceed—the person’s level of concern. I guarantee you’ll both move on more quickly.

Frances Cole Jones

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How to Wow With Your Voicemail Video




My new article on Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Conference:

Although “Innocent until proven guilty” is the law of the land, I find many women more than willing to judge—and convict– themselves of daily crimes of incompetence, inefficiency and general disorganization without ever hiring a defense counsel to speak on their behalf, much less consulting a jury of their peers.

I will take one of my typical days as a case in point. Even when I wake at five, take the dog to the park, lead a conference call, go to yoga, speak at a luncheon, prospect for new business, coach a client, and meet a friend for a drink, I will still come home and berate myself for not having stayed on top of my email, done the laundry and organized my speaking schedule. And if I’m anywhere near tax season, the holiday season, or bikini season, forget it.

It’s possible you’ve experienced these feelings.

If you’re one of the super women who also manage to commute to work, take your kids to sports practice and/or go on date night with your husband, I mentally—frankly—build an altar to you. I can’t conceive of the opportunities for personal condemnation these would provide for me.

That said, there are a few things I have slowly, painfully learned.

Contentment is a choice. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” I’ve come to realize contentment is much the same: to accept that there will never be a day when my business is booming, my bills are paid, my hair is highlighted, my family is adoring, etc. One way Thay recommends to cultivate happiness and contentment is to build in pauses to notice what is working: When your alarm goes off, don’t jump up but lie still and take three breaths; When your phone rings, don’t lunge for it but take three breaths. You could even close your eyes and take three breaths right now.

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HOW TO MANAGE Your Expectations

My new article on Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Conference:

Over the years, one thing I’ve slowly, painfully, learned is the importance of distinguishing between someone letting me down and my assumptions about that person letting me down. The breakdown comes when I assume that the other person knows exactly what I need – without my ever having communicated it to them. The result is often an internal, or external, conversation along the lines of, “Well of course I thought you would do X/it never occurred to me you would do Y.” Later lucidity enables me to see that 1.) I am not the supreme commander of the universe (often as I think I should be) and 2.) people can’t read my mind.

It’s possible you’ve found yourself in a similar situation.

One of the cascade effects of an inability to make the distinction between when people actually let you down and when you haven’t given them the information they need to support you is a general sensation that since everyone is going to let you down, it’s easier to have no expectations – of them or of yourself — whatsoever. This construct generally ends with our talking ourselves out of doing anything—if we don’t try, we can’t fail. Therefore we will never be let down.

The trouble with this particular approach is that we stop managing those elements that actually are within our control. And when this particular element of managing goes out the window, and consequently we do fail, we provide ourselves with further evidence for the need to keep our expectations low.

I’m here to say, Stop the cycle. Manage your expectations; don’t allow them to manage you.

What does this look like? In my experience, it’s very helpful to write down every single thing necessary to accomplish my goal, and then ask myself what I – not others — need to do to ensure these things happen. If others’ contributions are integral to my success, have I stated the exact nature of my needs to them, and asked what they might need from me to accomplish these things?

As has been noted, despite Hollywood’s obsession with ‘soul mates’ whose love ensures we never again have to articulate our goals and dreams, no one will ever be able to read your mind—not your parent, not your partner, not your boss, not your assistant. It’s up to you to manage your expectations of others, and meet your own. And every time you do, you’ll find you can set your own bar a bit higher.