How to Utilize Expectations as a Method of Control

There may have been instances growing up when your parents weren’t as supportive of your interests as they could have been. For many kids, these moments are heart-breaking and are one of the first realizations of the lonely nature of the life we live. If we couldn’t attain our own parents’ support, then whose support would we be able to attain moving forward?

This lack of support and perhaps a lapse in setting proper expectations is a powerful deterrent to a child continuing to pursue their interests. They begin to feel that their parents don’t expect them to prevail, and their confidence begins to take a hit. Once their confidence plummets, so does their interest and performance in their chosen domain. The mere fact of not being expected to succeed by those we care for can trickle down to affect our performance and success in our chosen domains.

This article aims to explore why expectations are such powerful methods of controlling the behavior of human beings. We’ll take the approach from two sides of the nature of expectations and follow the series of effects that they produce. These two sides of the expectation spectrum are simply positive expectations, and negative ones. In the context of this article, positive expectations are used on people who you want to succeed in a particular task – sometimes to your benefit. Negative expectations are used to limit the success attained by others, which can also serve to benefit you.


Positive Expectations


Setting positive expectations for others can certainly be used to improve their output in the domain which they take part in. Whether your subject is a team member you manage, a sibling you want to do well, or a partner whose presentation skills will affect your grade as well, positive expectations can improve their performance and bring benefit to you.

A positive expectation is powerful because it aligns your view of the individual with the vision they have of themselves. It is an empowering feeling knowing that the potential of success for which we strive is acknowledged by those who we respect. Voicing your positive expectations of others will serve to motivate them to not let themselves down, and also to not let you down in your expectations of them. Their journey to success is now backed by at least two minds instead of one, and can be the difference between giving up and continuing onward. Expectations are positive when they are attainable and relate to a venture which your subjects enjoy taking part in.

When voicing your positive expectations to influence the behavior of others, make sure you take into account the pressure which you place on them. People’s threshold of expectation differs by person. Placing too much pressure on meeting expectations, even if they are positive, can increase the risk of failure. Failure is increased as your expectation now is tagged with fear. Rather than just disappointing themselves if things go wrong, they will disappoint the people who placed positive expectations on them too. If their performance impacts you directly, you should be cautious of placing too much pressure to meet the expectations which you set. The line is thin between too much pressure and just enough. Tune into how well your subjects handle pressure, and set your expectations of them accordingly.

When voicing your positive expectations, always contextualize your thoughts from a perspective of their own self-improvement. Do not, under any circumstances, hint at the potential gains you’d make if they achieve what is expected of them. If you do, they’ll doubt the authenticity of the expectations which you set. Once the authenticity is under doubt, expectations lose their power. Find explanations of why your subjects will benefit from achieving the expectations that you place on them, and be weary of the pressure which they’re under to meet those expectations.

Receiving positive expectations makes us feel important. It serve to differentiate us from the field of competitors doing the same thing that we are. Positive expectations can serve as stepping stones towards tangible results. When setting positive expectations for others, you should provide the reasons which served to manifest these expectations in your mind. Explain why you think your subject can achieve success, and provide the evidence for why you think their success is imminent.

For example, simply exclaiming that you expect your son to win the gold medal at the track meet next week will not force him to do it. You should explain why you think he’d win the gold, and how much improvement you’ve seen in practice. Mention that his results have been increasingly improving, and that if he doesn’t win the gold next week, he’d have a hell of a chance to win it at the following meet.

Setting positive expectations is about making others believe in the story you lay out. Do not just skip the story and spoil the conclusion. The conclusion is the positive expectation in itself, but the story behind why you believe the expectation to be true holds the key to them believing what you say.

Below is a bullet list of what’s above for you to take home and practice setting positive expectations on others: 

  • Notice what your subject places value in – set positive expectations around those topics.
  • Do not place unrealistic expectations – you will do more harm than good.
  • Do not mention how them achieving expectations will benefit you.
  • Explain the reasons for your expectations, how they came about – make them believe the expectation rather than just hear it.
  • Have confidence in your expectations of your subject, even if they fail a few times on their road to achieving them.

Negative Expectations


Disclaimer: In no way does this article endorse utilizing these methods on the innocent, average person. Use these methods only on those whose actions cause others pain and who should be stopped in their pursuits.


Negative expectations are more Machiavellian in nature. These are the subtle expectations that you set in hopes of your enemies fulfilling them and failing. Remember to use negative expectations not to cause others pain for the sake of doing so, but only to protect yourself and your successes.

Negative expectations are much more covert than positive ones. If positive expectations involved a story and conclusion, negative expectations are just the story without the concluding remarks. These expectations involve subtle references of all the ways that can lead to your subject failing. They serve to pile on feelings of self-doubt and competitive anxiety. For example, if you wanted your son to fail at the track meet mentioned above, you’d mention how good the kids he’ll be competing against looked at the prior track meet. You’d mention how athletic the children looked, and that they would do well in an age bracket above his.

Negative expectations are dependent on tapping into what your subjects fear most on their journey towards what they perceive to be success. The more detailed your subtle references of failure, the more successful you’ll be in your venture. Be very careful of explicitly mentioning your hopes of seeing your subject fail. Do not voice the conclusion to the story of their failure, only the reasons which make failure possible. In this aspect, negative expectations differ from positive ones. When setting positive expectations, you state the reasons as well as what you think the outcome will be.

The fulfillment of negative expectations is dependent on your subjects growing to believe the reasons you lay out. It is akin to planting seeds of doubt which grow to influence reality. Remember, it is vital you keep your true intentions covered. If your subjects discover any of your desires for their failure, your expectations will serve the opposite of their intended effects. They will motivate your subject rather than elicit doubt within them, and you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

It is for this reason why being very subtle with your story is of critical importance. Allow them to write their own conclusion but write your story so that a box is placed around what they can possibly achieve. Place doubt and cover it with blanket statements of positivity. Details win this game – so if your negative expectations are more detailed in their reasons than the positive ones you use to throw your subject off, they’ll be more likely to come into fruition.

Bullet list of setting negative expectations on those you want to fail: 

  • Figure out what you want your subject to fail in.
  • Figure out what they fear most on their journey towards their goals.
  • Find ways of mentioning those fears without explicitly doing so.
  • Mask the mentioning of these detailed fears with less detailed blanket statements such as, “but I’m sure you’ll do well.”
  • Do not voice your true expectations of their failure.

Book Recommendation: 

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A Practical Guide to Its Use in Education

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