The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Your Team CAN Live Down To Your Expectations

by Shawn Peers, Dental Peers

I can still recall the day in high school English class where I was introduced to the concept of “the self-fulfilling prophecy”. We were studying poetry and the teacher asked how the author used that concept to foreshadow the poem’s ending.

None of us were familiar with the concept at that time. Yet, when our teacher explained it, the “self-fulfilling prophecy” became one of my favourite literary tools for the rest of my high school career.

To this day, I remain completely infatuated with the concept, and the reason for this is simple.

It is one of the most common beliefs that restricts us from any hope of achieving our full potential! It also restricts our TEAM members from achieving theirs.

My most recent encounter with the self-fulfilling prophecy occurred in an office I was coaching. We were discussing plans for training the admin team. The owner/dentist was, at the outset, in agreement with the goals we were establishing.

Everything seemed to be going just fine.

However, I guess at some point, we crossed a line. I went one suggestion too far! Rather than agree with our latest idea, he looked at us and simply stated “You cannot expect too much out of them”.

Now I understand the importance of setting realistic expectations. I also understand that it is important to ensure you do not overwhelm team members by being unrealistic.

But I also understand that when you expect little, you will usually achieve little.

Too often, I have seen underachieving offices hampered by the same mindset. And it usually originates from the owner/dentist. It is this mindset that team members lack the technical knowledge or expertise to thrive in a challenging setting.

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When you think about it, it is actually quite insulting. Those dentists are effectively saying their team members are not smart enough to understand.

If you truly have team members to whom that label applies, you need to do two things immediately:

  1. replace that team member with someone who does understand; and
  2. review your hiring procedures to determine why you hired such a team member in the first place!

Once you have completed those steps, you need to ask yourself whether your beliefs are playing a role in inhibiting performance. People sense when you do not have confidence in them…and they will perform “down” to your level of expectation.

You need to trust that, with the proper guidance, your team can achieve more. Have faith that they will make the right decisions. More importantly, let them know it is okay to make mistakes as long as they learn from them.

Setting high expectations and creating an atmosphere that fosters continuous improvement will help your team grow. As your team grows, so will your practice. Lower those expectations, and your team will continue to under achieve.

And my high school lesson on the self-fulfilling prophecy will continue to ring true in your office.

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