If we want to be a really effective subject matter expert, we need to slow down. Counter intuitive isn’t it? Here’s why.
One way to become a Master Expert and to do our job better is to spend less time rushing to conclusions and more time listening to people.
As experts we are on a continuous journey of discovery. We should always be trying to find out what we don’t know, even if we think we already know it. For some of us, this means a complete shift in the way we listen to others.
Part of our job as an expert is to propose solutions to problems. People come to us all the time wanting us to fix things or build something new. As busy experts we have a often have a tendency to jump to quick conclusions about what the problem is, and then swiftly propose how to solve it.
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This is only natural, and it is easy to do because we are by definition expert in the subject. But there is a better way to approach things. Jumping to a solution means we may be missing something. It may even make us seem patronizing.
It is better to ask appropriate discovery questions, and not to assume we know the problem and its solution immediately. And even if we do know, it is best not to dismiss the problem or say we know the answer immediately. This will make us appear uncaring or condescending. If we quickly declare we know the answer in front of our stakeholders, we may well appear arrogant. That will not improve our image or our personal brand. A little bit of humility will go a long way.
There are a few simple steps we can take to ensure that we are listening. Equally important, we will be seen to be listening. Even if we feel we know the answer we it is best to be patient and ask questions.
If we ask the right questions of the right people we will ensure we’ve completely understood the issue before moving to a solution. If we listen and ask the right questions, our stakeholders will see that we care. It’s also amazing how often asking a few simple questions, even when we think we already know the answers, will draw out important issues that we had not initially considered.
Even though it might sound like the same problem we’ve heard many times before, we should avoid jumping to the same conclusion until our clarifying questions have made us certain it is the right solution. This will enable us to consider if what we thought was the problem is indeed the nut of the matter. Is it a symptom of something else? Is it a byproduct of a wider problem? What else could the problem be?
The right questions will ensure we are not missing something. It is good to commit to listening carefully to everything our clients and colleagues are telling us.
As busy as we are, by taking a little extra time and some due diligence we are much more likely to understand the real reasons for the problem. This will save us and our stakeholders a significant amount of time the long run.
Listening has another major advantage. It shows we care and helps us build a positive personal brand by taking extra time to make sure we are hearing our stakeholders and colleagues effectively. They will see that we are taking the time and they will be much more likely to regard us in a positive light and listen to us, as we are listening to them.
DOMINIC JOHNSON is a Partner at Expertunity, and a master facilitator of the global signature program for technical experts, Mastering Expertship. He is co-author of the Expertship Growth Guide, and Master Expert: The ultimate guide for subject matter experts having more influence and impact.
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