There appear to be several television shows that are based on the premise that there is some man that is so much an expert that people don’t believe his advice and, so, he pretends to be a psychic. While people are sceptical of psychics, they’re apparently more receptive to the expert’s pronouncements than they would be if the information merely came from an expert. Additionally, this plot device sometimes comes up in an episode in other television shows, as well. Thus, I wonder if we can learn something from this premise.
Expert Versus Non-Expert: The Ongoing Duel
Experts sometimes have problems getting their information accepted by people who aren’t experts. The non-experts sometimes have preconceived notions about how things are supposed to be. For example, some of you have members of your upper management who think that buying laboratory software is easy — that it’s easy to install and that there’s little work to get it operational. You might have been hired into your company as the expert in this and they still don’t believe you when you tell them that, based on your multitudes of experience, that this is going to require a lot of time and money to achieve. Or, you might be the consultant who can’t convince your customer than they do actually need a project manager — that the project will be complex-enough to warrant this.
I hear this complaint from experts all over the world, both employees and outside consultants. I’ve run into this problem, myself. Over-and-over, I hear the words, “Why did they hire/contract me to be the expert if they’re not going to listen to me?!” Why, indeed.
Outlining the Problem
First of all, it’s human nature that, once we get some belief ingrained in our head, that it’s not necessarily easy to change it. Multitudes of data can be presented to us and, if we hold a belief strongly enough, we still won’t necessarily change our minds. The problem the expert faces is that convincing people is not as easy as providing the facts. It requires some amount of people skills and understanding of the human condition. This can be rather unfortunate for those of us who are more technically oriented as we tend to like facts and not all the things you have to do to get your facts accepted. It becomes even harder to do in situations where it’s not something that’s always true. If you have a situation where you advise that it’s almost always the case that something is true, the listener sometimes thinks they will be in that tiny and unlikely margin of people who can escape whatever grim fact you’re presenting.
One more thing that I hate to mention as it’s just so unlikely to be true is this: the non-experts sometimes complain that the reason they don’t understand the experts is that experts can be extremely arrogant and impatient with them when trying to impart wisdom. Now, we know this CAN’T POSSIBLY be true, but let me just mention it as food for thought. 😉
Who Bears the Burden?
While there is always a burden on the listener to be paying attention and to try to understand what the experts are telling them, we have to admit that the “teller” of the information also has a burden in the effort to impart the information. But we have to ask ourselves how much of that burden we bear? Personally, I’d say that I strongly feel the weight of both sides of this issue. On one hand, knowing that the non-experts won’t always understand or accept what I’m telling them, I know that, as the expert, I bear a heavy burden to do whatever I can to present the information in multiple ways in an effort to help them understand me. On the other hand, I can’t actually make anyone do anything. I can’t force a customer to do something if they tell me that they point-blank refuse to do it.
So, the question is, how far do I go to convince them? Do I go to the ridiculous extreme of pretending to be a psychic to get them to believe me? Would this even work? For one, the non-experts we deal with are probably not that likely to believe the psychic angle. For another reason, television expert psychics are always men, so this might not even work for me in a make-believe scenario. And then, could I even pretend to be quite eccentric-enough to make any of this plausible to the extremely gullible people out there? I doubt I could become that good at acting.
The Bottom Line
As frustrated as you might be as an expert and as appealing as the psychic expert idea might be, it all comes back to the same issue that, if it weren’t for all the people, our jobs would be easy. But then, if it were easy, no-one would need us experts. Once again, it’s the same old Catch-22 and just lots of hard work ahead.