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All About You: Not what you expected?

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.

Picture the scene: It’s your mother’s birthday. Every year, on her special day, you take her to a local restaurant. When the server arrives to take your order, he regretfully informs you that they’ve run out of her favorite dish. You’re devastated! This isn’t what either of you were expecting. You feel as if your mom’s birthday dinner is ruined.

Expectations are double-edged swords. They can make us feel happy or sad, satisfied or disappointed, accepted or dejected, and many other opposing pairs of emotions. But you shouldn’t avoid expectations – they’re vital in a wide variety of ways. That’s why I’d like to give you tips on reducing their negative impact.

Be realistic

I expect every talk I give to be a grand success. Yet, I realize that won’t always happen. Sometimes it’s because of events entirely out of my control. For example, during a power company’s special safety day, the talk I gave took place outdoors under a tent, in a large open field surrounded by marshland. The setup was beautiful. The stage, sound system, seating, etc., were perfect. Everything was so excellent that thousands of local tiger mosquitoes decided to attend. There was no way anybody paid attention to much of what I was saying – they were too busy swatting bloodsuckers. It was an absurd situation.

Although I felt some angst about my unwanted guests, my “realistic” mind told me, “This is life,” and not to let it bring me down. When you expect something to happen a certain way, approach it with the understanding that things may not go to plan. Expect the best, but prepare yourself – at least mentally – for something less.

Being realistic about expectations can also push you to be better prepared. For example, if you’ll be hosting a safety meeting in a room in which you’ve never spoken before, get as much information about the venue as possible, even if it means asking someone to send you pictures of the room. I always ask a week or two before a talk if there’s anything unusual I need to know, such as if the lighting will be low, people may be walking in and out of the room, or the talk will take place on a shop floor with noisy equipment. You can do the same with any event in your life.

Enjoy what does happen

If there’s one axiom that’s always true, it’s “the future is unpredictable.” That’s why fretting about what may happen is a waste of time. However, when something doesn’t meet my expectations, I call upon my favorite two words that help me get through it with a positive attitude: “So what?”

Failed expectations can be learning experiences. So you didn’t get the meal you expected. But you can order something else – and you may really enjoy it. And anytime I’m scheduled to speak outdoors, I ask about natural distractions such as mosquitoes to help make sure the “buzz” surrounding my talk is about my message!

Also, take some time once in a while to think back on your past expectations. Social studies have shown that if you have average (reasonable) expectations, they’re exceeded about as often as they aren’t met. We just tend to remember the failed events more.

And remember, even when she can’t have her favorite dish, your mother still loves you.

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

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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