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Creating False Expectations

Has anyone ever created a great expectation for you–then totally blown up your hope?

Was this a person who had the resources to do something life-changing for you?  Did they systematically lead you to believe they’d do what they promised–but never came through?   Then they gave no explanation whatsoever for why–nor expressed any regret.

This happened to Benjamin Franklin, 18th century American Founding Father, inventor, and diplomat.  Franklin as a young man formed a friendship with the Governor William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania, who took great interest in the young man and invited him to his home frequently.

False Expectations—Dashed Hopes

Young Franklin confided to the governor his aspiration to move to England for a time to launch his career.  The governor was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to pay Franklin’s passage and to give him letters of introduction to key contacts in London.   

Franklin was elated, and as the time for his departure grew near he sent numerous messages to the governor asking when he would receive the passage and the letters.  The word kept coming back from the governor–any day now.  The day before the departure he sent a message to the governor asking again.  Franklin was reassured and told to go to the ship where the passage and letters would be waiting.

Arriving at the ship, young Franklin went to pick up the passage and letters and was told that there was nothing waiting.  Franklin was shocked and shaken. Franklin did finally find money for passage to England where he was very successful and became very well known.

When False Expectations are the Only Thing Someone has to Give

Benjamin Franklin recounted years later, in his autobiography, how he later talked to a person who knew Governor Keith well and gave him the real reason for his cruel and bizarre actions.

“But what shall we think of a governor’s playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy! It was a habit he had acquired. He wish’d to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations.”

I have actually known many people in my career like Governor Keith who created expectations as the only currency in their bank account.  I have seen them prey on the bright young Franklin’s of the world.  I think creating false expectations is the tool of the most corrupt, notorious predators.

Our world today is filled with these people who create false expectations.  They are a daily danger for all of us, a cancer on the world’s soul.  More skilled than liars, who simply don’t tell the truth, those who create deception will pull every lever of our emotions to extract what they want of us and others.

Avoiding the Deception Trap

How can you escape the deception trap?

Know the Profile.  People who often will get you into the tractor beam of their false expectations don’t look anything like the part of someone who would do that.  You often expect that someone who would deceive you would be sly and sleazy and probably down on their luck.  The person who creates false expectations often is in a powerful to very substantial position.  They are well educated, prosperous, and very well connected.  They give the idea they are able to reward the people who admire them and become a part of their entourage.  The name of one of America’s most renowned swindler, Bernie Madoff, comes to mind, who in jail today feels no remorse for his victims.

Know When You’re Being Groomed as a Target.  Suddenly you meet someone who is above what you considered to be above your skill, income, and social level. They express great interest in you.  They offer to take you to dinner and you keep waiting for the date.  What you see in these people early is that everything is always on their terms.  What they promise you is always delayed and will happen soon.   You get alarm bells from other people who have dealt with them, but you don’t want to hear them because you feel flattered.  You’ve just been groomed for later.

Don’t Count Your Money While It’s Sittin’ on the Table–Verify Everything.  I’ve always taken the old Kenny Roger’s song as a fundamental principle of my life.  How many times have I wanted to believe something so much, that much as I tried to shake it, it was always true in my head.  If time goes by without expectations being fulfilled for which there are vague and inconclusive explanations, it’s probably something that is true in somebody else’s head, that may or may not come true.  Your ship may come in, but we better have a crop on the shore.

Never Count on a Single Outcome–have Options Independent of Expectations.  When someone believes an expectation from an articulate, charismatic person they often abandon all other efforts.  We must always maintain multiple options, even when it looks like we have one great option.

How do I Avoid Being the Person who Creates False Expectations?

Having talked about the Governor Keith’s of the world who create expectations, it is easy ourselves to become a version of the person who creates false expectations.  How do I personally avoid this trap?

Don’t be a Person Who Changes a Vision of the Future for a False Expectation.  Becoming a person who creates false expectations can be incredibly seductive.  We meet someone who admires us and believes we have resources they need.  We feel flattered when they look up to us.  So what do we do to confirm their admiration?  We create expectations of what we hope might happen and perhaps could happen.  It could be a job, a financial opportunity, a trip.  When our vision of the future isn’t coming to pass, we don’t update that vision with the person we’re creating the false hope.  We just let them go along believing. If the expectation becomes obviously untrue, we often disappear or distance ourselves from that person.  Without intending to, we have deceived someone and crashed their hopes.

In Life, Under Promise, Over Perform.  As entrepreneurs, we’re always painting a vision of a product or service that doesn’t exist yet, but we have the vision that it will and we believe it with all our hearts.  I like to call it “telling the truth in the future,” when what I believe in concept will be an actualized fact.  But I can’t manipulate people with my vision.

So my vision drives me, but I guide my actions by the facts on the ground.  I make a clear distinction between what has happened and what I believe will happen.  I under promise and over perform.

Dream Come True–Expectations and Fact

A great example of creating true expectations is the Dream Come True Foundation, which Carol Kallendorf and I founded several years ago with some great friends and volunteers.  We tell people we will enable them to achieve their dreams to escape intergenerational poverty.  With our board and volunteers we’ve raised several million dollars in money and in-kind services. 

When we talk with our Dream Achievers we tell them they can radically change their lives in about two years.  Our program has produced nurses, lawyers, programmers, and engineers.  We interview each one to evaluate their ability to achieve their dreams and they sign a memorandum of understanding outlining what they will do and what we will do.

We can create true expectations that help people change the world–and we must give people an accurate vision of what they’ll have to do to achieve their vision.  Great expectations grounded in reality can change the world. 

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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