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Sharing Expertise Is More About Being Useful Than Being Right

Your experience is key to facilitating an understanding by others and a commitment to your recommendations.

You know you’ve got a solution and they need your help. Your opinion can change the way business is done for the better. Yet you sit there wondering why you were ever invited. Sound familiar?

Life just doesn't hand you things. You have to get out there and make things happen. That's the exciting part.


Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef

Your role may be as a resident, a physician or your child’s parent at a school conference. In any case, you have vital information for others. You are at the table, you have the expertise, your voice is ready.

Will they listen?

To succeed in these situations, you will first need to use a different kind of expertise: your facilitation skills. You need to know how to facilitate your expertise to them so they perceive you as useful to them.

In the same way, a chef adds a bit here and a bit there to a recipe, flavoring and savoring with a taste or two. A cook can make the same recipe every time but a chef understands the subtle differences in produce, meat and herbs.

When you are the expert, you know more in that role than simply being a passive participant — but only if you know how to insert your expertise intentionally, skillfully and purposefully.

Musicians do this, too, by sampling the audience early and often for their reaction. The legendary jazz musician Buddy Guy told me he is always looking to “connect with the audience” and it all happens in the “feel” he gets for what they want, what they are experiencing.

Jerry Garcia

The Grateful Dead never played the same concert twice. The band knew its job was not only to play music, but also to provide a unique, live experience for the crowd. | Baumwoll, Brian/ Grateful Dead Archive Online, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Grateful Dead never played the same concert twice because the musicians listened to the audience and knew what the people came to hear. They knew their job was not only to play music. Their real job was to provide a unique experience for the crowd. They know you can purchase their work; what you cannot duplicate is the live experience.

Just like those musicians, your expertise is secondary to the experience you need to provide. This is how you facilitate understanding and commitment to your recommendations. A common pitfall in these situations is believing your answer is the answer. The harder you push, the more resistance, fear, resentment or discouragement you will get from the audience.

Remember what they really need is your help improving their condition with your expertise and experiences. Successful experts do this in eight ways:

  1. Approach the meeting with a spirit of inquiry rather than judgment. If you are pressed for time, a deadline looms, or if you feel frustration with your colleagues, this is especially important. Set your mind for curiosity and make time to establish a dialogue with co-workers.
  2. Seek them out through questions and paraphrase their thinking before you weigh in yourself. Try thinking about this as helping them move ideas from inside themselves to the table , leaving free space in their minds for your stuff. Benjamin Franklin to the rescue here: “Convinced against (my) will is of the same opinion still.”
  3. Provide background information, but avoid sounding like an expert who knows what the group does not. Instead, focus on the information they need to more fully understand your content: the latest research, headlines, movement, evidence, outcomes and understanding to date.
  4. Summarize frequently. Remember, you’ve already processed what you know; they, however, need time to digest it. As you speak, they are listening, thinking, deciding, perhaps judging and thinking about their next meeting. Summarize to keep their focus on you and your content.
  5. Ask them for options. This allows them a chance to contribute, perhaps to teach you a thing or two, but mostly it helps you understand their “inner vocabulary” (i.e. how they talk to themselves). This allows you tremendous influence, since you can then talk like they talk.
  6. Weigh in with your opinion after they have exhausted their approaches, making sure that you refer to their contributions to support your opinion. They are multitasking and you need to break through that mental clutter in a way that helps them receive it. It is not enough that you said it. You must always focus on the other person’s receptivity to be useful.
  7. Send a document or an email after the event that does two things: summarizes the meeting and affirms the group’s interaction. This keeps you in touch with them, providing more value to them, and allows you to continue to influence them.
  8. Send private emails to members of the meeting affirming their contribution (even if their content was a bit off track), affirm their presence, perhaps their openness and surely their helpfulness. Focus on making sure you stay in relationship with them. Be a servant leader, not a leader corrector.

“Being ‘right’ isn't always the best business approach,” says an attorney for Health Care Service Corp. in Chicago. Your expertise should be more about being useful versus having the accurate figures. For our colleagues to do the right thing, understand it and to encourage them to seek us out again, we need to focus more on being useful to them. We already know what is right. What we did not always learn in law, medical or professional school is how to be useful.

In the end, being useful is the “right” strategy after all.

Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP, is an executive coach and professional speaker who specializes in working with professionals who have been promoted to leadership positions.

Topics: Leadership

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