Mission Impossible: Expecting People to Read Your Mind


Unspoken expectations, aka assumptions, are dangerous! They will wreak havoc in your relationships and they will keep your team wandering in the wilderness of failure.

One of the most common problems I see among leaders: expecting their people to know exactly what they want and then being amazed and annoyed when it doesn’t happen. In the process, everyone you lead is confused, frustrated, and wasting time, not to mention your credibility is getting crushed! Yikes!

Over the past couple of weeks I have had multiple conversations with people on this topic – both from leaders expecting their people to read their minds, and with those attempting to execute what a vague leader was expecting them to do. Let’s just say it is frustrating all the way around – for leaders and for followers.

Can you relate to any of these examples?

You hire someone new, give them the low down on what’s what (or at least you think you do) and then set them free to do their job. You sit back and observe from afar with shocked indignation that they are not caring the way you do, sharing your priorities, and, worse yet… even overlooking some things altogether. You may make a pointed comment here or there, but you don’t actually address things in a way that makes sense.

Your silence gives them permission to continue doing what they do while you get hotter and hotter under the collar. In your mind, it is abundantly clear what needs to be done and you are annoyed beyond belief that this person is seemingly willfully ignoring it.

You may be smiling at this point because in print… it seems all the more obvious that expecting someone to read your mind is foolishness, yet, at times we all do it!

Consider the flip side. As a team member, you desperately want to make your leader proud. You want him or her to see your strengths and provide opportunities for those strengths to shine. Instead, what you get are vague directives causing a great deal of stress. In the void of information, you attempt to do what seems best, only to discover you only half nailed it. You are frustrated. The leader is frustrated. And the work suffers.

Have you enjoyed this kind of mission impossible? A leader who expects you to read his or her mind?

As a leader, it is your responsibility to be sure you are communicating your expectations clearly. As much as you might want to blame those you lead, it really is not their fault!

When it comes to your expectations, consider this…

1. You are not as easy to understand as you think you are!

Your life experiences and world view color how you think about things and what you expect. Communicate even when it feels like you might be stating the obvious.

2. What motivates you, might not motivate them!

It is human to think that what motivates you must motivate everyone. It is a wise leader who will take the time to discover what motivates those he/she leads. And if you lead as a business owner, you have to realize that nobody is going to care as much as you do about your business, no matter how motivating you are. They will care much more about being able to utilize their strengths and growing their own capacities.

Make it a goal to discover what motivates each person you lead. You will be glad you did!

3. Your values are yours – they belong to you!

Whether or not you have intentionally set out to identify your top five values or not, chances are your leadership reflects those values. Remember, values are things you are passionate about – things you might even be willing to die for. That’s big! When you feel so strongly about something, it is hard to imagine that the rest of the planet does not share your values. In fact, they have their own top five and feel just as passionate as you do.

If you have not already identified your top five values, now is a good time to do that. After all, it is tough to articulate them to those you lead if you don’t have clarity around them yourself!

Take the time to learn the values for those you lead.

And work together as a team to identify the team’s top five values. This will give you a unified reference point from which to work.

4. Your personality plays a role

Did you know that how you communicate is impacted in part by your personality? It’s true! You can read a whole lot more about that here. Can you spot the personalities that might have more of a tendency to expect others to read their mind? Often times they also try to read the minds of others!

5. Your thinking preference comes naturally to… YOU!

You take in information and give information in a way that comes naturally to you. That’s called a thinking preference.  Just like you may be capable of signing your name with your left hand even though your signature might look like it did when you were in the third grade, you prefer to sign with your right hand. If something were to happen to your right hand and you were forced to use your left hand, your signature would probably improve! You are capable of adapting.

Whole Brain Thinking provides powerful applications especially when it comes to working with and communicating with others. Stripping it down to the very basics for our purposes here, the four thinking preferences are analytical, practical, relational, and experimental. Most people are dominant in one or two of these thinking preferences. The problem arises when I am thinking and communicating to my team from an experimental preference and they are they processing the information in practical or analytical ways because that’s what comes naturally to them. It can be like speaking in two different languages! That’s why a leader must learn to be “situationally whole brained” – proficient in communicating for all four thinking preferences.

6. Cultures can clash

Did you know that in Thailand the “thumbs up” sign is a way of communicating condemnation – a bit like sticking your tongue out at someone?

Or that curling your index finger to communicate to someone to “come here” in the Philippines is a gesture one would only make to a dog?

Be sensitive that different cultures assign different meanings to things.

7. The vague lingo thing

Have you gotten into the habit of speaking in vague terms and saying things like I want you to…

  • “Rock it!”
  • “Step it up”
  • “Take it to the next level”
  • “Make it happen”

Without specifics, your people will never read your mind and accomplish what you had hoped they would. Why not skip the expectations and set them up for success. Take the time to explain exactly what you are looking for. It will save you a lot of time and aggravation later!

So quit expecting others to read your mind and communicate, communicate, communicate – even when it seems obvious. Invest the time to state, discuss, and agree on expectations and then arrange to follow up. You will be surprised by what your team is able to accomplish when you do!


When it comes to expectations – what’s been your experience as a leader? As a follower?

Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas is an author, entrepreneur, ICF certified coach, Career Direct Consultant, DISC consultant, and HBDI practitioner. She helps her coaching clients sharpen their skills, face their fears, eliminate funky mindsets, hone their habits, and cultivate clarity so they can THRIVE personally and professionally. Schedule a consultation with Marvae here.

Leave a Comment