Ever been asked to do something and responded with:

Sure! I can do that.

And then immediately felt like this?

Chris Farley says,

You might have felt like this because:

  • You weren’t given clear directions. 

  • You don’t know exactly what’s expected. 

Don’t be this person when you ask someone to do something for you!

Why Set Clear Expectations?

  • It makes life easier — for all parties involved. 

  • Things get done faster — with clarity comes speed.

  • Less time is wasted — no more do-overs.

Shania Twain in a field. She sings

Follow this simple 5-step framework to set clear expectations with anyone.

Step 1: Make The Ask

Clearly define what you want them to do.

Typical workplace ask:

I need you to review this document before the meeting.

Typical parent-child ask:

I need you to strip the sheets off your bed.

Flaticon Icon The ask isn’t always enough because it often lacks specifics.

The work colleague might be thinking:

  • Why do I need to review it? 

  • What am I reviewing it for?

  • What should I be looking for?

  • I'm busy with other things.

The child might be thinking:

  • Why do I need to do that?

  • Does that include the duvet cover? The pillowcases? Which pillowcases?

  • My sheets are fine.

A woman wearing a cap and headphones says,

Step 2: Provide Context

Explain why they need to it so they can:

  • See the bigger picture

  • Buy into its value and importance

  • Feel motivated to follow through

Workplace example: 

This draft includes the feedback we received at the last meeting from our clients. I need your expert eye to make sure we've incorporated all the changes they requested.

Parent-child example: 

Today’s laundry day and just like clothes, bed sheets need to be washed. I also want to take advantage of cheaper electricity rates so we can save money for other things you like to do.

A woman with a cornrow hairstyle sits in a park. She says,

Flaticon Icon Context helps motivate them, but it’s still not enough to get the job done right.

The workplace colleague may think:

Okay I get it. I'll add it to my 'to do' pile.

We're closer, but still not clear enough: 

  • What do they compare it against?

  • Where do they make notes/changes?

  • How do they handle changes requested but not made?

  • When does it need to be done?

The child may think:

Yeah, I'll do it later.

We're closer, but still not clear enough:

  • When are the lower electricity rates?

  • What do they do with the sheets — leave them on the floor, hand them to you, put them somewhere?

  • Who's doing the actual washing?

Quiz: Alex's Lunch

Alex is busy working so she asks her partner to make lunch. Which statement would best motivate her partner to do it?

A. "I don't have time to make lunch."

B. "I hate making lunch when I'm busy."

C. "I have back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, so I need your help."

D. "I'm too preoccupied to think about what to make."

A shark at a work cubicle. It chomps at the air. The text reads,


Select the most motivating statement from the scenario above:

Step 3: Provide Specifics

Explain how to do it by sharing:

  • How you need it done.

  • What success does and doesn't look like.

Workplace example:

This document includes all changes requested. Compare against the revised version. Create a separate document with changes requested but not incorporated. Please complete it by 3:00 pm and then email me.

Parent-child example:

That means the top and bottom sheets, both pillowcases, and the duvet cover. I don't need anything from your fun throw pillows or the inside of the duvet cover. Put it in front of the washing machine in 30 minutes when the rates kick in.

Now the colleague and child might think, "Oh, so that's what you want me to do!"

Ernie from Sesame Street gives a thumbs up.

Step 4: Ask If They Have Questions

They may still have questions about the what, why, and how. Your answers will:

  • Give them the clarity they need.

  • Help them complete the task successfully.

A woman looks as if she has questions.

Flaticon Icon Give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Possible work colleague questions:

  • "Should I use MS Word or Google Docs for the new document?"

  • "I have a conflicting priority with this. How should I handle that?"

Possible child questions:

  • "So I don't have to wash my fuzzy blanket?"

  • "I have a meeting with my study group at that time. Can I do it after dinner?"

Step 5: Ask For Their Commitment

You need to hold them accountable for the task.

Ask a simple question:

Can I count on you to get this done?

A dog nods. The text reads,

Take Action

Try these 5 steps today!

Clare Danes in Homeland says,


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