Priceless Tips for Clearing up Missed Expectations


Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. I’m in Bali, and I met a new friend, Jess. Jess is a chef on a yacht. It’s her J-O-B, and I was so fascinated when I heard that. I asked her if she struggles with any communication questions. She was very open and willing and brave to say, “I’ll give it a go, and let other people learn while I learn.” So thank you for your bravery.

Jess: Thank you for having me.

Doctor Neha: Tell me, what have you been thinking about?

Jess: What I’ve been thinking about is my workplace. The workplace I’m in is a small and confined environment. How do you communicate with people in a close proximity like that? Especially about your needs, and what’s going on for you—how do you talk to them honestly without offending them. How do you have those difficult conversations, where it works for both parties?

Doctor Neha:  And you can’t run anywhere.

Jess: You’ve got nowhere to go.

Doctor Neha:  And you’re also making their food, right? My first thought was, You only have difficult conversations when you’re at port or wherever you’re docking when you can get away from others. No, just kidding, that’s not true.

This is a great question because one of the things you said was, “How do you have difficult conversations with someone else without offending them?” So the first thing that I’d tell you is that you don’t get to determine that. You have no control over whether another person is offended. What you have control over, is your ability to be personally accountable, to communicate as clearly as possible, and to set things up for success. Then, once you put it out there, you need to have willingness to listen deeply to however your words impacted them and to be profoundly curious about how their story might be different than yours.

Jess: Yeah, very good.

Doctor Neha:  I think the first thing we have to do is release the words “and not offend them.” Because you might.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha:  What you say might upset them. The second thing I’d say is that there’s a way I’ve learned—it’s not “the way” but one way—to communicate about mixed signals. I wrote it in a book called TalkRx. Will you grab the book over there?

There’s an easy way to learn how to make clear agreements. Let’s say you’re hanging out with a new group. You’re really annoyed that they’re not on time. Here you are on the boat with them, and you told them dinner is at such-and-such a time, and they’re still out in the water or doing whatever they’re doing. Nobody is giving any regard to what you said. Could you see how something like that might be frustrating?

Jess: Absolutely. Been there, done that.

Doctor Neha:  So I was just picking a time issue as an example. In that scenario, you have to ask yourself, “Did I actually have an agreement with them?” Or did you say something like this: “Dinner is at six”? Because that’s a statement. That’s not a question and that’s not an agreement that you made with someone else.

If I were going to make an agreement with you, I’d say, “Hey, Jess. I like to time everything, and I’d love to make sure that you get to eat this dish warm. It tastes so much better. So I’m wondering, in order for me to do that, what time is going to work well for you?”

Jess: That’s the kind of platform I’ve created with time on the boat.

Doctor Neha: Oh you have?

Jess: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Okay, great.

Jess: Time on the boat—everyone’s very flexible with it. I’ve got to be flexible with the guests, but I’ve also got to set my boundaries in terms of what’s going to happen, food wise because there’s a lot of thought and preparation that goes into that.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so tell me what topic might you not feel as confident having a conversation with someone?

Jess: I think having the conversations about conflicts.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so give me an example of conflict.

Jess: Maybe where there are expectations of two people’s needs being met and they each have different expectations of outcome. And it’s not communicated clearly. Like one person has an expectation of a certain activity happening. And maybe I have an expectation of them being back on the boat. Maybe there’s a time thing. But having two expectations from different parties crossing in completely opposite directions is when people get frustrated and upset and emotional, because things are not the way they think they should be.

Doctor Neha: Right, so it’s like two boats just missing each other.

Jess: Completely.

Doctor Neha: I think the most important thing there is what I call the Five Levels of Agreement.

Jess: Okay.

Doctor Neha: The Five Levels of Agreement is in Chapter 21 of the book. It’s called, “He said; She said.” The first thing you want to do is set the ground rules.

Jess: Okay.

Doctor Neha: Because this is the deal: You can have something ready and make an agreement, say, dinner is at six. But something may have changed for the people coming to eat. So wouldn’t it be nice if you came up with a back up plan? “Dinner is at six; it’ll be hot and ready. I’ll make sure it’s served. If you’re not here, or something happens, it will be waiting with your name on it in the fridge.”

Now let’s go through the Five Levels of Agreement. So let’s imagine that you and I are making plans in Bali to go shopping.

Jess: Okay.

Doctor Neha: No, let’s go to the movies. Gungun, [talks to camerman] can you tell me what movies are out here right now? Is there any movie or dance festival?

GunGun (cameraman): A movie, Paradiso, maybe.

Doctor Neha:  Thank you for that. I had to get some support from the camera crew. So you’re going to ask me five times if I’d like to go see Paradiso with you this weekend. I’m going to answer you, five different times, differently each time. You tell me if we have an agreement.

Jess: Okay. Perfect.

Doctor Neha: Okay. Level One Agreement. Go ahead.

Jess: Neha, I would love to go to the movies with you, would you like to go and see Paradiso this weekend?

Doctor Neha: Oh, I didn’t even know it was out yet. I had no idea.  Now, are we going to the movies?

Jess: No. 

Doctor Neha: Why not?

Jess: Because you’re just curious about it; you didn’t agree to anything.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, I pretty much acknowledged that you spoke. Wasn’t that nice of me? “Oh, Paradiso is out? I didn’t know it was out this weekend.” All right, let’s move on to a Level Two Agreement. Go ahead.

Jess: Neha, do you want to go to movies this weekend and watch Paradiso?

Doctor Neha: I have been dying to see it, ever since we saw the trailer last fall. So are we going to the movies?

Jess: No, not yet, you haven’t agreed to it.

Doctor Neha: Okay, but what did I do in a Level Two Agreement, that was different than Level One?

Jess: You had more interest in going; you acknowledged that you wanted to go.

Doctor Neha: Right, so I’m showing some positive interest. So I acknowledged you in Level One. Level Two was showing positive interest. Level Three, here we go.

Jess: Neha, would you like to go to the movies this weekend and watch Paradiso?

Doctor Neha: Yes, I would love to. So I’m going on this tour of a temple; as long as I’m back in time, we can definitely do it. Are we going?

Jess: Still not sure.

Doctor Neha:  Why not?

Jess: Well you said yes, but only if you’re back from the temple.

Doctor Neha:  Right. What I did was say the word yes, so you might believe we’re going.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha:  Except I gave myself a back door out. So I’ll be the one who, ten minutes before the movie, texts you and says, “Go ahead without me, we’re not back yet.”

So therein is room for disappointment. By the way, I call that one, “a qualified yes” or a California yes. Okay. Let’s move to Level Four.

Jess: Neha, would you like to go to movies this weekend and watch Paradiso?

Doctor Neha: Yes, I would. Are we going?

Jess: Yes, we are going.

Doctor Neha:  So you’re a busy woman, and I’m a busy woman, and lots of opportunities are going to come up for ecstatic dance and singing and going to all sorts of places. The weekend may come and go, and we’re going to run into each other at yoga on Monday, and say, “Oh, we said we were going to go, but we didn’t go.”

I gave you a very clear yes at Level Four.

Jess: Okay, but there’s nothing scheduled.

Doctor Neha:  Yes. So here we go,  Level Five Commitment.

Jess: Okay, Neha, would you like to go and watch Paradiso this weekend?

Doctor Neha: Yes, I would love to. How about we get GunGun here to drive us in the car to the five o’clock show on Friday evening.

Jess: Sounds perfect.

Doctor Neha:  Yes, right at that theater two blocks away.

Jess: Now we have an agreement.

Doctor Neha: Now we have an agreement. So for you, on the boat—and off the boat—think of the five or seven scenarios that happen when people don’t end up coming back to dinner at the time they said they would. Figure out a way to set up the expectations clearly: “So if you’re back, this is what’ll happen. If you’re not, this is what’ll happen.” You get to set the rules. The guests are playing. To them, there is no time.

Jess: There is no time. It’s like Bali time. Or Spanish time, mañana, mañana.

Doctor Neha: Yes. So was that helpful?

Jess: Yes, absolutely.

Doctor Neha: Okay. For any of you at home who struggle with this, whether you’re in close quarters or not or if you feel frustrated that you have unmet expectations, first, ask yourself if you’ve expressed those expectations. Not as a statement, “Be at dinner at five.” That’s only you making a statement and no one else agreeing to it. I’m talking about you asking a question: “Hey, would five o’clock tonight for dinner work for you?” Have a question that someone else can answer.

We just went through the Five Levels of Agreement, and remember that until you have a Level Five Agreement, you don’t have an agreement. With levels 1 to 4, you are still in negotiation. So if you would like to brush up on this, read Chapter 21 of TalkRx.

Thanks again for joining us. This is Doctor Neha with TalkRx. And,  Jess,  thank you so much.

Jess: Thank you for having me. That was amazing and very insightful.

Doctor Neha:  We will see you again soon. If you have any questions,  please post on the blog below or drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha. I would love to hear your thoughts on how this goes awry in your life. Thank you.

Awareness Prescription

Five Levels of Agreement

            Level 1—Acknowledgement

            Level 2—Positive interest

            Level 3—Qualified yes

            Level 4—Clear yes (no details)

            Level 5—Yes + details confirmed


To clearing the air…and calm seas,


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