Negative expectations are based primarily on fears.
We set ourselves up for reality by expecting it to be either good or bad. When it happens and it’s better than our expectation, it’s a pleasant surprise.
Since the mid-’80s service companies have understood that customer satisfaction is tied directly to the customer’s expectation. If the service delivered meets or exceeds the customer’s expectation, then customer satisfaction has been achieved. The term ‘exceed expectations’ has become an idiom.
Negative expectations can also influence outcomes. Sociologist Robert K. Merton is credited with coining the term “self-fulfilling prophesy.”
In his book, Social Structure and Social Theory, Merton says, “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”
Examples of self-fulfilling prophesy happen many times in daily life. Every year it impacts grade school students, for example:
Little Johnny does ok in first grade, but he fidgets at his desk and talks a lot. At the end of the year, the first grade teacher notes these behaviors in Johnny’s record.
In August the second grade teacher is reviewing the students for the upcoming year, and Johnny’s behaviors in first grade are noted.
The second grade teacher decides to deal with Johnny right off the bat, and assigns him to the desk right in front of the teacher’s. His behavior is scrutinized by the teacher, more so than the other students’, and the first time Johnny fidgets or talks, the teacher comes down hard.
Pretty soon, Johnny starts forming his own expectations.