Quicksilver Challenges

by Christopher Lovejoy on July 13, 2010 · 8 comments

Your every expectation implies the promise of at least one benefit and the possibility of at least one cost.

To wit:

“I expect you to …, and if you do, you will enjoy [benefit], but if you don’t, you will have to [cost].”

Or …

“I expect myself to …, and if I do, I will enjoy [benefit], but if I don’t, I will have to [cost].”

Actually, it’s more complicated than that, but the gist of it is the same, including expectations around, not just what you do (or don’t do), but also who you are (or who you aren’t) and what you have (or don’t have).

I might expect you to be a certain way. If you are, then I’ll reward you with a smile of appreciation; if you aren’t, then I’ll punish you with a frown of utter consternation.

I might expect you to have a certain thing. If you do, then I’ll reward you with something of my own; if you don’t, then I’ll withdraw or withhold something of my own.

A failure to know or to communicate your expectations if or when that is necessary can lead to complications when expectations are not met.

Three quicksilver challenges can arise in the wake of failed expectations:

Have you ever had someone impose an expectation on you?

Have you ever had someone deliver to you a negative expectation?

And have you ever had someone invalidate your expectations?

Ignore, dismiss, denigrate, ridicule, or violate your expectations?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and I do concede that some of us have been), you likely answered these questions in the affirmative.

With a positive frame of mind, and with a perspective for understanding why challenges to expectation arise in the first place, and with techniques to deal with each of these challenges separately, you can …

1) deal effectively with attempts to impose expectations on you

2) deal effectively with expectations that contain negative judgments

3) deal effectively with attempts to invalidate your expectations

Incidentally, these challenges are slippery. In your interactions, they happen quickly in the heat of your interactions, so much so that they might escape your notice, or if you do pick up on them, you might not be quick enough (or experienced enough) to handle them effectively.

Nevertheless, they affect you each and every time they occur.

Before I respond to each of these challenges separately, I’d like to outline five ways that you can deal with all of them as a whole.

General Responses

Whether someone has imposed an expectation on you, or delivered an expectation to you that is loaded with a negative judgment, or invalidated (ignored, dismissed, denigrated, ridiculed or violated) one of your expectations, here are five steps you can take in response:

1) For starters, be aware that the dark side of humanity ultimately lies in its failed expectations; rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist, or resisting it when it comes up in your interactions, or sugar-coating it with bushels of positivity, I kindly suggest that you welcome your primal sense of dread in response to it, as best you can, if only for a moment, and be aware that it exists.

2) Be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to identify one or more of the three ways in which failed expectations might manifest in your interactions: as an imposition, as negativity, or as invalidation. This might take some practice, but if you put your mind to it, it won’t be long before you can spot them with ease.

Remember, too, that what you put out is what you get back; the more you impose your own expectations, or deliver negative judgments in your own expectations, or invalidate the expectations of others, the more likely these acts of resistance will come back to haunt you or bite you. Consider the wisdom of following The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Also, in my previous post, Positive Expectations, I provided six general guidelines for holding and delivering expectations affirmatively, with confidence. I would suggest a quick review of these guidelines before reading further. These guidelines set a positive, productive context for your dealings with others in various interactive situations.

3) When someone commits what might be called a sin of expectation, you might consider calling them out on it and making it known to them that you know they’ve done it. When you know someone well and you’re on friendly terms, you can usually do it in an easy-going or fun-loving way; otherwise, it’s best to do it as calmly and as clearly as you can, and with serious intent. For safety reasons or for reasons of convenience, you might put your call-out in a suggestion box or find other, less direct, means of getting your message across.

4) Exercise patience with the reaction to calling them out; there might be blowback and it could get ugly. If you expect blowback, be prepared to back away or have an escape route; otherwise, hold your ground and keep your intention clear and firm.

5) Stay as positive as you can with what happens in the wake of dealing with the challenge; don’t back down on what you did and don’t minimize what you felt you had to do. If it helps, talk to someone who might understand your side of the story. If you think it’s serious enough, take appropriate safety measures to protect yourself or loved ones.

General Application

As an example of how these steps might apply, I’d like to refer to the negative scenario of service that I presented in my post, Positive Expectations, where a customer approached a service provider for assistance.

Here, again, is the dialogue:

Customer: (approaches a service provider respectfully) Excuse me (spoken in a pleasant tone at a respectful distance).

Service provider: (ignores customer for many long seconds before speaking) Yes? (spoken in a tone that suggests that this is not a good time to be requesting service; does not make eye contact).

Customer: (feels momentarily annoyed) I’m looking for a [fill in the blank] (maintains a polite tone).

Here, the customer overlooked the conduct of the service provider by pretending nothing had happened, while indirectly condoning it, which allowed the following to take place:

Service provider: It’s two aisles over (spoken in a deadpan tone; does not make eye contact; returns to the task at hand).

Here’s some advice for the customer:

Your failure to identify and respond to the source of your annoyance allowed the service provider leeway to continue treating you with disrespect.

Not only did s/he ignore your expectation that you be treated with dignity, s/he also dismissed your expectation of adequate service.

Rather than taking this personally, you might have said, in a calm and sympathetic tone: “You sound like you’re having a bad day.”

You have might stood your ground, saying nothing, waiting for a better response. You might have  chuckled, saying: “perhaps I can help you in some way”. You might have smiled, saying: “I could always come back some other day.”

Your chances of avoiding blowback are increased if you can stay calm and be sympathetic, even friendly.

The service provider could be having troubles or struggles you don’t know about, but stay firm; don’t settle for less than adequate service.

A Personal Example

This past weekend, I got a call early in the morning, 25 minutes before a weekly grocery delivery to my home was due.

Normally, for over a year, delivery persons have consistently given me 5 to 10 minutes of notice. I thought this to be a reasonable expectation.

I called out the delivery person on his timing, creating some natural tension as a result. He agreed to come at the beginning of the delivery window.

When he arrived, he was adamant that if I wanted to be called 5 to 10 minutes before delivery, that I indicate this in my online account profile under Special Instructions. Even though I had not heard of this requirement for over a year, I amicably agreed.

The rest of our interaction went smoothly. Later, I made a quick change to my account to indicate my preference for the future. I did this suspecting that the delivery person might have been covering himself by shifting the blame to me, but then I thought the rules for delivery might have changed without warning.

By making a quick and easy change to my account, I, too, was covering myself against any possible misunderstandings in the future.

My call-out will likely prevent any future misunderstandings. My compromise smoothed relations, for the present, and for any future interactions.

A Practical Suggestion

Imposition, negativity, invalidation – I’ve realized they each require their own treatment, with their own post.

In the meantime, here is how I would suggest that you put into practice the five steps outlined above.

In addition to following The Golden Rule, remembering that what you put out is what you get back, I would suggest that you put yourself in the role of an interested observer as you go about your daily interactions. Try it for a day, a few days, a week, or even as long as a 30-day trial.

Make it your intention to follow the five steps in a systematic way; there’s no need to deliberately put yourself in situations where these challenges might arise. You’ll soon realize there’s lots of opportunities to practice in your daily interactions, wherever you might be. Feel free to alter or expand on the five steps provided above, as you see fit.

This is something I intend to do for myself. No doubt, I’ll be reporting on what I find in a future post.

I also appreciate that this exercise could turn into a royal endeavor. This is not my intention. Have fun with the exercise, go easy with it, and try to give others the benefit of the doubt when that seems reasonable.

I won’t go so far as to say that no personal fulfillment is possible if you can not or will not negotiate and navigate the heart of darkness that lies within the soul of humanity.

But I will venture to say this: to the extent that you learn and practice these steps, your path of personal fulfillment will be that much more colorful, blissful, and pleasant.

In my next post, I will address these three quicksilver challenges of expectation separately.

Please feel free to add your suggestions for dealing effectively with these three challenges.


Mel Clifford July 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Hi Christopher
I came across your site from Evelyn’s blog site and your comment. I see you have started to post blogs. Keep it up and hope you continue. On the above post Service “people seldom complain for the reason you may think”
Kind Regards

Christopher Lovejoy July 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Hi Mel, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your kind words. Knowing what I know about psychology, I agree with your comment about service.

Insight Hunter July 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Your five steps, three manifestations and six guidelines might be overly complicated and overwhelm the reader. There’s no easy mnemonic device to remember the 5 steps either (headings would help), which I take to be: be aware, identify, confront, be patient, and stay positive. The main idea seems to be to be upfront, respectful, understanding, calm, etc. when people treat you negatively, which makes a lot of practical sense. I’m not sure steps are necessary to accomplish that and that people would actually systematically go through them in that manner. Also, without examples, the three manifestations are kind of vague and abstract to wrap the mind around.

You do not distinguish between which conflicts are worth fighting for and which you should not bother with. My personal emphasis would be in neutralizing negativity and not letting things bug you and using the techniques describe in this post when things are really problematic. However, I sense you feel that addressing negative expectation is important and should not be let go lightly.

Christopher Lovejoy July 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Hello, my friend, I appreciate, as always, your constructive feedback.

I can see how some readers might feel a little overwhelmed by all of the suggestions I provide. Much of what I’ve written in this and previous posts would probably be better presented in a larger format – a small ebook in pdf, for example, rather than blog posts – so as to ensure better continuity. I actually did try to come up with a mnemonic for the five steps, but abandoned it when I realized I couldn’t make it work. Certainly, as you suggest, subheadings would have added clarity. Noted for future reference. Also, the use of the term “steps” is probably overstated; “considerations” might have better served me here. With respect to the quicksilver challenges themselves (which you termed manifestations), I thought I articulated them as clearly as I could have to give the reader a general sense of them, but certainly, concrete examples would have helped to ground them.

You’re correct in sensing that any kind of negative expectation is important enough for me to notice at the very least, but as I indicated, some can be treated lightly, depending on the familiarity of the people in the relationship. Having said this, I’d be interested in knowing how you would, in your words, “neutralize negativity”. In my next post, where I take on the quicksilver challenges separately, I hope to provide a better sense of which conflicts are worth exposing to the light of truth and which ones are best left in the dark.

Insight Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I was talking about the “imposition, negativity and invalidation” part of the post, which I understand to be three ways negative expectations can be harmful. I have a general idea of what that means, and I think I know what you’re talking about, but I’m not always sure we’re on the same wavelength. Sometimes, I feel you are using your own vocabulary that you know well, but that I’m not perfectly in tuned with. Of course, others may feel differently and understand perfectly.

To be fair, I myself was using an undefined vague term in “neutralizing negativity.” Neutralizing negativity is the use of certain mental techniques to make sure when bad things happen to you, their emotional and psychological damage is minimized in intensity and length. You cannot control your environment, but you can control your reaction to it. Of course, there are limitations, but it will help you overcome any negative states and moods quicker, and negate minor ones altogether.

The main idea is to be aware of subconscious negative thoughts creeping up and swatting it like a mosquito before it bites. If you get it early, I theorize it stops the brain from dumping chemicals to the rest of the body that will dampen your mood. Say you said something really embarrassing yesterday, and the thought is going to appear in your head even though you don’t want it too, and it will likely make you feel bad. If you cut it off, and use certain techniques, the negativity can be lessened or avoided.

The idea has been around for along time and others have used the concept, but I developed a whole system of self improvement based on it. Ideas enveloped under my version of it would be (1) getting rid of all psychological and emotional baggage of the past, (2) learning how to deal with failure, and (3) learning how to deal with random bad things that happen to you. Forgiving others and yourself and techniques for rebuilding any lost self-confidence from emotional damage done would be subcategories of (1).

Christopher Lovejoy July 16, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I think I’ll be able to clear up any uncertainty about what I mean when I speak of quicksilver challenges when I post my next piece, where I address the challenges specifically and concretely. When you speak of “neutralizing negativity”, various releasing techniques come to mind, e.g., the Sedona Method and the Emotional Freedom Technique. These techniques are less about overcoming negative states and more about releasing unwanted feelings – less masculine and more feminine in their approach and spirit.

And then there are the more cognitively-oriented approaches where you use a simple stopping technique to squash ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). As you suggest, the neuroimmunopsychological (sorry, I couldn’t resist) effects of chronic negative human interaction can do serious damage to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being over the long-term, especially in those intensely stressful work environments we hear about in the psychological literature. If you’re exposed to the quicksilver challenges in such an environment on a daily basis, it would certainly be in the best interests of everyone involved to manage them wisely so as to prevent any long-term (or even short-term) deleterious effects on sleep, energy, focus, recall, and mood.

Lose the baggage, forgive yourself and others, learn to deal with failure and rejection, build (or re-buiild) confidence, learn to cope with events over which you have no control. Your proposal that we do these things in this order is a sound and sensible strategy, putting anyone who is successful in doing so in a solid position to negotiate the quicksilver challenges.

Thanks again for your insightful feedback. It’s much appreciated.

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