Have you ever had an experience where you thought you knew what to expect, only to be surprised by something completely unexpected? This is exactly what happened to me when I was a child and went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. I expected to have a familiar dinner of spaghetti, only to be served spaghetti from a can. A concept that I had never heard of before. This experience made me realise that expectations can differ greatly from person to person, and it’s essential to communicate clearly to avoid misunderstandings. What I understand by “spaghetti for dinner” is not the same as what others understand.

As we work alongside project teams with business leaders, we see the importance of clear communication and mindful expectations in project management. In developing requirements, in understanding each role, in ways of working, in timing and time zone planning, in all the day-to-day decisions and team dynamics that make a project team work. Our team of experienced project managers helps organisations improve their business processes, implement new systems, and navigate the challenges of leading change. To do this, we need to be vigilant ourselves to improve communication.

The Importance of Mindful Expectations

It’s easy to impose our own expectations on what somebody else tells us. What I interpret as “spaghetti” could be ready-made out of a tin or pasta noodles made from scratch, or something in between. Being mindful of the expectations you bring to the table makes you a better leader and contributor to a project and your team. Take some time to create as much detail as you can around what your expectations look like.

Communication Clarity Makes a Positive Difference

Brene Brown, a well-known author and speaker, relates an experience when she was travelling and working with her team of not getting what she was expecting as she had made assumptions about how her instructions would be understood. She uses the prompt ‘paint done’ (i.e. paint a picture of what done looks like to you) when she’s working with her team and clarifying expectations and responsibilities.

The challenge of trying to communicate what you know to someone else is well illustrated by the experiment conducted in 1990 at Stanford by Elizabeth Newton, known as the “Tappers and Listeners” experiment. In the experiment, the ‘tappers’ were given a list of songs well known to their partnered ‘listeners’ (like ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’). The tappers were asked to tap out the rhythm of the song whilst it was the listener’s job to guess the song. The result? A very poor guess rate of just three songs from 120.
The insight here is that once we have knowledge or understanding, it’s very hard to imagine what it’s like not to have it. It’s difficult for the communicator to re-create the state of mind that is ‘not knowing’. Breaking it down into relatable ideas that ‘paint’ the picture for your audience can help to communicate more clearly.

Creating stories and anecdotes, mnemonics or catchphrases all create much more lively and interesting visual pictures in the way that we communicate ideas.

“Concrete language and stories defeat the curse of knowledge and make executives’ strategy statements stickier.”

Communication Tips to take away

  1. Break it down into relatable ideas that ‘paint’ the picture for your audience of what ‘done’ looks like.
  2. Create stories and anecdotes, mnemonics or catchphrases all build much more lively and interesting visual pictures, making the ideas more vibrant and memorable.


At 6R Retail, we thrive in environments where teams are building ways to work well together. We have the expertise to support you every step of the way, whether you need to upgrade your ERP system, launch a new e-commerce platform, or simply streamline your internal communication.

If you have a project that’s struggling with its purpose or clarity of communication, we invite you to contact us. Let us help you achieve your project goals with clear communication and mindful expectations.

If you have any questions or you’d like to discuss project management for 2023 or coaching with Leonie, book a time here.

I shared the full spaghetti story and its takeaways in my monthly newsletter, and I’ve been delighted by how many people found something in it for them. Whether they’re preparing for a large-scale rollout or recovering from a job that went a bit sour, so be sure to subscribe to stay updated on future insights and stories. Sign up below.

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