During the last several weeks I have seen several titles of workshops on how to work with SMEs that bothered me, and I feel the need to step forward and speak up in defense of experts. I don’t vent often, but this needs to be said.
No, I won’t call out the sponsors of the workshops, but I will call out the pattern of disrespect because it offends me to see experts insulted. In fact, let me suggest that if people who work with experts do not respect the people they work with or enjoy the job, they should find other work or change their attitudes.
Here’s what I have seen:
- One workshop offered help on how to work with “brilliant jerks”. Seriously? If you think someone is a jerk, why would you want to work with them? Even more poignantly, why in the world do you think they would want to work with you? When you resort to name-calling, it demeans not only the other person but it demeans yourself.
- Another workshop insinuated it will help you deal with experts in a way that suggested deer-hunting or working in a morgue. This particular company said it can help you “snag, tag and bag” your expert. The image is really quite macabre when you think about it.
- A third consultant suggested that experts are sort of goofy and need to be managed in a way that is manipulative.
A Real Methodology that Respects Everyone
Yes, good people skills are essential to working with experts. In fact, good “soft skills” – as they are called in the training industry – help in all relationships. My colleague Nathan Eckel is an expert on working with subject matter experts from a soft skills perspective. He is an expert in leadership skills. In fact, he speaks and writes on how to “lead” experts from a 360 degree perspective. That attitude, one of leading another in a relationship of mutual respect, is a positive approach.
He and I often tease each other about our different mindsets about working with experts. Nathan is about soft skills and I am about process, templates and methodology. He points out that we actually are both about all of it but we focus on different parts. Certainly, we recognize the need for both approaches and the value of having a combination of those skills in any project.
Nathan says, “We differentiate what we do, and we both add value to everyone by valuing everyone. Our work is beyond the ‘ID (instructional design) zone’ because we want the whole team working and playing well together to get results. We both know it’s better to be in the performance zone than the ID zone.”
Especially because I have known and listened to Nathan speak on this issue, he has made me particularly sensitive to the way we work with, talk to and talk about the experts we have the honor of knowing and learning from. A respectful attitude ultimately spells the success or failure of your training project. More important, they lead to success or failure in life.
If someone thinks they are working with a “brilliant jerk”, guess who the real “jerk” might be?