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All About You: What are your expectations?

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

The type of words we use – whether spoken aloud or in our minds – make a difference in how we feel about an activity. They also can affect our expectations.

Tell yourself, “I know this is going to be a boring meeting,” and you’ll go into it with your senses tuned to notice the “boring” aspects. On the other hand, if you prepare for the meeting by thinking, “I’m going to do my best to increase the energy in the room,” you’ll switch your awareness to a positive mode – one that likely will make a noticeably positive difference.

“High expectations are the key to everything,” said Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club. I’ve found that to be true. I’ve also learned a few techniques for creating positive expectations that I’d like to share.

Use words that include what you can control

Waking up and saying, “Everything is going to go smoothly today” isn’t a bad expectation – it’s just that you’re possibly setting yourself up for disappointment. You don’t have control over everything that happens in your day. A better-worded morning expectation would be, “No matter what happens today, I’m going to be grateful I’m alive and will do my best to make wise choices.”

One definition for an expectation is a “strong belief that something will happen.” That means you’re trying to predict the future. That’s tricky work. However, another definition for expectation is “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” That’s the kind of expectation that’s within your power to manipulate. For example, you can’t be sure that a new type of personal protective equipment will be liked, but you can expect that you’ll do all the research and promotion you can to increase its chances of being well-received.

Practice positive framing with daily experiences

When I travel, I always expect to have fun. Why? Because I tell myself I’m going to be friendly to everyone I meet and I intend to smile and laugh a lot. Whether you’re going shopping or inspecting a new jobsite, expecting it to be a positive experience because of your actions and viewpoint will influence how you feel about what happens. Plus, you’re practicing your expectation-framing skills.

When you meet someone for the first time, expecting a positive relationship is not naive, especially if you’re openly friendly. Another tactic to make the experience positive is to notice the characteristics you like about the person rather than what he or she does that annoys you. (This positive filtering works for long-term relationships, too.)

Dream big (but be realistic)

Yes, that heading may sound like an oxymoron, but some goals may be outside our realm of accomplishment. Although you may be able to write a novel; capture the top health, safety and environmental position at your company; or finish a full marathon, it’s a bit unrealistic to think you’ll become a star quarterback in the National Football League. However, unrealistic expectations aren’t what usually hold us back – it’s the belief we can’t fulfill a big dream. All kinds of negative, often fearful, thoughts tell us we’d fail.

Here again, the words we use to form our thoughts matter. “But” is a little word with big power to diminish our expectations and thwart our reach for grand goals. “I would like to get the vice president position, but …” (fill in any excuse here). Whenever I use the word “but” when describing a goal, I revisit it to see what I need to do to change it to something that gives me power instead of an excuse.

Your expectations can shade all aspects of your life. They can determine whether you enjoy an evening with relatives or find it tiring, have a blast hosting a safety meeting or decide it was a flop, or feel frightened instead of excited about a new project. The words you use to frame your expectations are what will make them your foe or friend.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit


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