Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.
—L.M. MONTGOMERY, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
In 1960, a German company called B.N.S. International Sales Corporation sold a shipment of chickens to Frigaliment Importing Company. But when the chickens arrived, Frigaliment found that they were older, lower-quality “stewing hens,” not the higher quality “broiler chickens” it had expected. Frigaliment sued B.N.S. for breach of contract (technically, breach of warranty), claiming that B.N.S. was obligated to provide the specific types of chickens described in their contract.
In district court, a judge dismissed the complaint, in part because while Frigaliment claimed that “chicken” always means “broiler chickens,” in German, the word can mean either kind of chicken. The definition of the word was ambiguous, so the contract could not be enforced.1
That’s a classic case that’s studied as part of every law school curriculum. We bring it up to illustrate the impact that establishing, meeting, or violating expectations has on relationships. This was a classic case of one side having expectations based on incomplete information and the other unintentionally violating those expectations. When that happens, matters often wind up in severed relationships or even litigation. Litigation exists because one side in an agreement fails—deliberately or inadvertently—to meet the expectations of the other.
Whether those expectations are realistic or reasonable ...