Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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2024 preamble

This text was written in 2012, but one of many left unpublished until 2023–2024. The publication follows with only minor revisions and the odd addendum. Note that the sabbatical mentioned below refers to the first of several (while it was the only one at the original time of writing).

My experiences in the interim are broadly in favor of the overall principle—clashes of expectations is a very common source of conflict, misunderstanding, disappointment, whatnot. However, I point to a below (2012) side-note, where I already am sceptical to the usefulness of the idea of scripts (as opposed to expectations). My 2024 scepticism is even greater.

I hope to at least begin work on the below-mentioned notebooks in 2024, but the work would be a slow process in parallel with all other writings, and I do not know when the topics relevant to this page will have their turn.


One of the main ideas that I contemplated during my sabbatical was “scripts”—the way that humans expect things to play out and how they react negatively when others do not adhere to the script.

The current version of this article contains an overview with examples written at a later date (early 2012). However, with much forgotten material in the (paper) notebooks where I gathered my thoughts back then, the page might be considerably shorter than it eventually will be.


While the ideas of this article are based on own thoughts, they are not likely to be unique. In particular, there is a great likelihood that my long-ago readings on Transactional Analysisw provided unconscious inspiration.

Further beware that while I intend(ed) scripts to refer to something more complicated than a mere difference in expectation, I do not always differ between these cases—indeed, writing this text several years later, I find myself doubting the usefulness of the former concept compared to the latter: Differences in expectations are ubiquitous and costly (cf. e.g. my article on the Tall Dancer syndrome) and differing scripts are just a special case.

Examples and discussion

When I was seven (or so) years old, I proudly went to the neighborhood kiosk to make one of my first own purchases—candy. Finding the cashier’s window empty, I looked at the display for a while, and then pressed the button next to the window.

I had a very clear idea of what would happen next: The cashier would appear and say “Vad får det lov att vara?” (a somewhat stilted and archaic formulation, but in the past traditional; idiomatically, roughly, “What is your pleasure?”), I would state what I wanted, receive it, and pay.

What actually happened did not match the script: The cashier did appear—but he said nothing at all. This threw me off and a mutual silence that seemed like an eternity followed (in reality, possibly, ten or twenty seconds). I then nervously pointed to the desired item, received it, and payed.

That a child would be caught off-guard and lack the flexibility to adapt to the unexpected situation is understandable. However, looking back at previous experiences, I have the suspicion that similar errors are common among adults too—although typically with a script that leaves more flexibility in detail. (While still going beyond mere miscommunication, misunderstanding, and minor discrepancies in expectation.) Problems are particularly likely when two parties each find the other in violation of the script. Because I lack the ability to read minds, I cannot make a definite statement for the counterpart of any given situation in my past experiences. However, to give a likely example of mutual script-deviations:

Just having entered software development, I found myself trying to urgently problem-solve a debilitating performance problem on an important website after normal working hours. In the end, I saw that I either had to leave it as was until morning or install the new and optimized software version intended for next weeks release. I repeatedly tried to reach the project manager by telephone, but in vain, and resorted to do what I thought that she would have decided—install the new version.


Looking back from 2024, this might have been the only company in which I (as a software developer, not an admin) would even have had the technical access necessary to perform a production install on my own—and certainly the only where I would have been able to do so without violating various formal criteria (e.g. that a certain release had the right state in a project management tool). Indeed, with later employers, chances are that even the project manager would not have had the formal right to pull a release forward in such a manner.

Here, in contrast, we routinely made less drastic changes live, like editing individual JSP pages on the production server, and no-one considered this odd.

To what degree this reflected the general attitudes of the day (1999) and to what degree the company-local attitudes, I am uncertain. However, I did see a drastic shift in division of roles, formal tracking, and similar, when I moved to another company in 2001.

One or two days later, I found myself in a meeting with the CEO and the project manager. The former sternly, but calmly and factually, explained that I had been grossly in error: Irrespective of whether the decision to install had been correct per se, it was not my decision to make—even when the project manager could not be reached. It was her head on the line, if something went wrong—and she must be the one to decide if, how, and when her head was risked.

I realized that he had a major point, conceded this, promised to act differently in the future—and expected him to close the matter, possibly even to give me a metaphorical pat on the back for being so mature and professional in handling his feedback. (Notably, everything had actually gone well with the installation.) Instead, he seemed to grow irritated and continued to expound on the subject for a prolonged time (several times longer than the original discussion; possibly some additional fifteen minutes) with rapidly increasing agitation—as if I had stubbornly and consistently denied any wrong-doing... As I small-talked with the co-CEO a few months later, he mentioned that the CEO had the impression that I “did not care about errors”. (In reality, I have always erred in the direction of perfectionism, the more so back then.)

Here we have one definite case (the CEO’s failure to keep to my script) and one likely: I suspect that the reason for the CEO’s reaction was that he had expected a radically different behavior from me, based on experiences with others, e.g. a refusal to admit fault or strong displays of emotion, possibly giving him the opportunity to demonstrate himself as the “bigger person” in a second step. (Or with some other thing in mind for the second step—here I can only speculate.) A comparatively cool and matter-of-fact acknowledgment of fault is unlikely to have been in his script, causing him to misinterpret and mis-act.


In terms of transactional analysis, this would, probably, partially be a mismatch in communication levels: He likely wanted to hold a Parent–Child discussion; I went for Adult–Adult.


Looking back from 2024, I have often seen a problem that managers, business graduates, whatnot, take a Parental attitude towards the likes of software developers, engineers, and similar groups. (Or otherwise consider themselves to be, in some sense, “better”.) Such an attitude has rarely been justified, as business graduates are only weakly filtered for intelligence, tend not to be very knowledgable, often lack key insights, etc. In a cleaning company, e.g., the business-graduate manager might well be the “smartest guy in the room”—in a software company, he often fails to break into the top half.

(However, I do not extend that problem to the above CEO. If in doubt, I was fresh out of uni, while he was much older and much more experienced.)

Another interesting example is a boss who on several occasions stepped into my office to ask “how things were going”. As I have subsequently realized, he was likely deliberately asking a highly open-ended question to give me an opportunity to engage in a conversation and/or to give me the chance to choose a topic close to my heart. At the time, I inwardly rolled my eyes and violated his script by asking him to be more specific—from my POV, the question was too open-ended for me to possibly be able to answer... (How was what going? Work in general? A specific task? Some part of my private life or my general well-being?)

Generally, script-violations are particularly likely to arise in Tall Dancer situations—and might, in turn, be one of the most important explanations for that phenomenon. Consider, for instance, those so exaggeratedly and obviously artificially happy and friendly women that pop up every know and then: They are used to being successful with this phoniness and have problems handling those who see through it and react neutrally (let alone negatively). Worse, in my impression, they tend to see the non-enthusiastic responses as a defect in a Grinchy counterpart—where the response is, at least in my case, not a sign of Grinchiness, but of a specific, personal aversion rooted in their phoniness.


Looking back from 2024, mismatches in the extended family have been common, e.g. in that some (even male and more normal) colleagues expect to be liked for “being friendly”, even when they perform second-rate work, refuse to take responsibility for their errors, or show signs of poor ethics—all of which are more important to me than superficial friendliness.

A related example is areas like service professions: If I hire someone to do something and that someone screws up, I expect to see the matter corrected, a reduction in billed amounts, or whatever might apply. The counterpart (especially, if female) seems to believe that all that is needed is a superficial “sorry” accompanied by a big smile and some enthusiastic friendliness (even be they both fake).

Those familiar with my writings will not be surprised that potential script violations have been particularly common between me and women. One example (with a number of similar incidents, with or without books, within or without trains) saw me sitting in a train, reading, when the woman next to me asked whether I was reading a book by Terry Pratchett. My answer, in its entirety, was “yes”—giving her everything that she ostensibly needed. Of course, this answer is unlikely to have been in her script. (What her script actually was, would depend on her intentions: Was she an actual Pratchett-fan, wanting to discuss a common interest? Looking for a boy-friend? Just bored with the train ride? They have in common, however, that the expected result of her question was a conversation—not a one-syllable reply.) Interestingly, many similar attempts at contact have not just left me cold or gone below my radar, but have actually annoyed me.

The situation with dates and girlfriends has been no better (although these instances will often be on the wrong side of the expectation–script border), with my “failing” to react positively to this-and-that or to drop everything to come to the rescue—e.g. when one particularly spoiled girl had left her wallet at home, went to a store, and now phoned me to lend her money. (I lived somewhat close to the store, true, but it might still have been as much as half-an-hour out of my day.) Requests for help with computer problems have been particularly common.


I have since repeatedly seen the idea that women would often request help for some other purpose than receiving help. (E.g., outside relationships, to have an excuse to spend time with someone in the hopes of a relationship resulting; e.g., inside relationships, to have an excuse for a sexual encounter without having to suggest a sexual encounter.)

I leave unstated to what degree this idea holds up. If it does hold up, however, it would strengthen the script aspect of many interactions relative the expectation aspect.

Of course, on a meta-level, I have the expectation that communication can be taken at face value, while many others say something other than what they mean and still expect to be understood. Looking at e.g. sitcoms, such differences in a man–woman constellation is an ever-recurring source of jokes.


Beware of scripts, avoid making them too detailed, plan for contingencies, and do not blame the counterpart for violating the script.