When a business thinks that what its customers want is for some reason unrealistic or unachievable, it might decide that a prudent course of action is to manage expectations: i.e. to try to make the customers’ desires more feasible or reasonable (or, less euphemistically, to lower their expectations). Many customers might consider this phrase to be an irritating and obfuscatory example of business-speak, as they would much prefer that their original expectations were met.
It’s not just businesses that do this. In researching the history of the phrase, the earliest evidence that OED editors have been able to find comes from politics:
1972 Nicholas O. Berry Political Configurations v. 63 The capability of a government in managing expectations..depends upon the nature of its political configuration.
However, earlier evidence may exist, for instance in the internal memos of a business or other organization. We have found earlier references to ‘managing the expectations of’ something, but we are seeking to track the fixed phrase to manage expectations. Can you help?
Posted by OED_Editor on 16 January 2013 14.25