Stay In Your Lane

When we tell someone to “stay in their lane.”

When we say to a group of people, “your people have never done that before.”

When we tell an individual that, “people like you don’t do things like that.”

When we say, “we don’t want that idea here.”

When we assert, “that will never work.”

When we give the old comeback of, “we’ve always done it this way.”

When we say, “who are you to come over here and tell us differently.”

We take the organizational and individual, posture, of disbelief, distrust, and even disapproval. When we take that posture, we create a place of expectation that leads to people doing exactly what it is that we want them to do:

Preserve the status quo.

Stay in their lane.

Don’t rock the boat.

Be safe and compliant.

Go along to get along.

Avoid (or surrender) in the face of conflict that might lead to change.

Expectations and assumptions are the fuel of success. They are also the fuel of failure. What we give language too, what we encourage more of through our social cueing, we get more of. What we give lip service too, what we don’t talk about; what we let live in silence, we get less of.

Until the organization, individual, or society, gives up, returns to stasis and stops making waves.

Leave your lane.

Raising and Lowering Expectations

There are two actions that you can do with expectations in a conflict situation:

Raise them.

Lower them.

Raising expectations (either through pursuing management, resolution, or reconciliation of a conflict) comes with its own set of problems. When expectations are raised, they wind up being discussed. When they are discussed, they can be agreed upon, or disagreed with, but they cannot be ignored.

Which is what happens when expectations are not raised.

Raising expectations also involves heightening the other party’s desires, needs, and wants—or their expectations—and sometimes this can be damaging if you don’t think that you can fulfill unmet expectations that have already been raised.

Or the unmet ones that haven’t been raised.


Lowering expectations (either through downplaying outcomes, ignoring raised expectations, or just not bringing them up in the first place) brings more complications than raising expectations. When expectations are lowered, they wind up being resented as even being in evidence in the first place. When that resentment builds, it can be addressed, ignored, or added to the list of issues to be resolved, reconciled, or managed.

Which is what happens when the conflict is seen less as a process to be experienced and more as an arena where one version of reality will win, and another version must inevitably lose.

Both raising and lowering expectations comes with conflict consequences.

It’s probably a good idea to be strategic about which set of consequences you’d rather address as an antecedent to resolution.

[Advice] Managing Reality

Changing expectations of outcomes corresponds to changing our assumptions about other people in conflict–and out.


This is difficult, because assumptions are grounded in pattern seeking behavior that our human minds engage in, to make stories about the behaviors of other people in the world.

When those stories don’t match up to the expected behavior, people often experience disappointment.

  • Then the stock price goes down.
  • Then the family erupts into disagreement and conflict.
  • Then the organization begins the long, slow, traumatic process of firing an employee.

Disappointments are based in having unrealistic expectations about the behaviors of other people; but, since other people also have a skewed view of one another, the disappointments coalesce into conflicts, hurt feelings, and eventually, unrealized expectations.

There is no way out of this cage as long as human beings create narratives about the world, based primarily around the way that their unknowable inner lives either match up (or don’t) with the outer reality.

The thing about reality though, is that it’s relative.

Emotions drive expectations, disappointments and assumptions. They lead us to build and manage narratives about how we’d like the world to be, rather than how the world actually is structured. This structural process leads to far more conflicts than the actual conflict issues at hand.

Leaning in (to borrow the phrase) comes from addressing the hard things repeatedly, rather than just erecting new expectations, based in old assumptions, which lead to seemingly fresh and new disappointments.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Opinion] Well, That Was Difficult…

“Well, that was easy.”

Actually, no it wasn’t.

And the expectation that it should be, raises more problems than it solves for many organizations, institutions, and even individuals.

If the resolution to the expectation of how the conflict should proceed, results in an outcome that seemed “easy,” that outcome—and the process to get to that outcome—should be reexamined.

Expectations around finishing—or resolving—a conflict, a pain point, or a problem, are often characterized as needing to be “easy” in order to be sold to the skeptical party on the other side of the negotiation table. But the expectation that resolution shouldn’t require anything of one party (and everything of another party) is a childish assumption that many adults act on in very sophisticated ways.

  • The expectation of an “easy” resolution to conflict leads to poor organizational storytelling around a conflict narrative (particularly in a customer service complaint context) as well as poor organizational dealings with employees who may (or may not) be “pulling their weight.”
  • The expectation of an “easy” resolution to conflict leads to policies, procedures and laws that lack common sense, hide devilish details in meaningless language and public pronouncements by organizations that should be trustworthy, but ultimately come off as satirical and farcical.
  • The expectation of an “easy” resolution to conflict leads to disappointments, which deepens dysfunctionality, creates a cycle of more conflict (not less) and allows individuals to hide behind fear, avoidance of accountability and accommodation of unethical behaviors.

The marketing of the “easy” button was genius from a marketing perspective. However, tangled geopolitics, organizational ethics problems and individual ennui are not resolved with a button.

The expectation of difficulty in resolving both simple and complex conflicts—coupled with the courage to do the difficult thing anyway—leads to long-term resolutions, deeper engagement and real, genuine relationships.

“Well, that was difficult. But it was worth it.”

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] Expectations

Expectations are the mother’s milk of conflict.

The Best Phrase in Business-

They serve as the fuel that allows a conflict to grow, past the point of employing tactics that would be considered “reasonable” to the point of needing tactics that are unreasonable.

Expectations fuel conflict because they go hand-in-hand, with assumptions. Every party in a conflict knows that assumptions and expectations are deadly, but every party can’t always articulate why.

Here’s the why:

Assumptions exist in the individual minds of the participants in the conflict, their emotions, and their projection onto the other party. Assumptions are dangerous because they bind the other party in a box, not of their own making.

This box doesn’t allow for the creation of creative solutions to the conflict at hand. If anything, the assumption box leads to the same responses and reaction as those that created the conflict in the first place.

Expectations then come from assumptions, because human beings are pattern seeking animals. When looking for the patterns of migrating herds of beasts on the Great Plains or the Serengheti, pattern seeking is critical to eating and overall survival. However, in interpersonal relationships, in the 21st century, pattern seeking comes from the expectation that what occurred in the past, is still what will occur in the future.

Expectations bind each party to the other in a dance of futility, disappointment and dysfunction. Often—as in families, businesses, and even civic and fraternal organizations—this dance becomes part of “the way we do things here.” Which, when the steps in the dance are questioned by outsiders, defensiveness arises, and calls of “that’s just the culture,” or “You don’t understand. That’s just how we do things here,” begin to be the guiding mantra for avoiding the change that conflicts inherently create.

Managing disappointment with emotional maturity, clarity, thoughtfulness, and with the ability to confront appropriately and effectively, is one of the ways to break the pattern of expectations, derived from assumptions.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: