I was recently in a business meeting, with our team playing an advisory role to a major national retail chain, who are trying to build a new revenue stream in the field of our expertise.

My partner, an ex-CEO in the Telco industry, led the meeting. Instead of explaining the background of the complex industry-specific terms and concepts that made the Retail CEO’s eyes glass-over, he almost consciously ignored the signals of information overload from the other side of the table and confidently continued. The retail chain managed to ask some general questions around costs and risks with little depth. The Retail CEO was prepared to pay $3000 in advisory fees for a 1h meeting which seemingly didn’t further his understanding in that matter in any major way. What is happening here?

My partner claimed the role of ‘Expert’. His assignment is to advise the Retail CEO on his decisions on if and how to implement this new business model. He gets paid a tremendously high rate, not because he is meant to educate the CEO and transfer his in-depth expert knowledge gained over decades of experience, but to provide him with the assurance that he makes the right decision for his company. Therefore, what the Retail CEO pays for is certainty. Now, most of us would agree that the world is no certain place and that the deeper you dig the less certain things become. So really it’s perceived certainty. Why the expert-jargon laden communication style then? Because if you painstakingly explain to people exactly why things are as they are and how they function, they tend to fall for the illusion that they get this, that they are now the experts themselves with enough certainty to make the right decision. Which is of course not so – and in most cases, really not useful or practical for them. They already have their own ‘expert’ areas and usually don’t seek to become an expert your field, but rather seek your expert advice to tell them what to do.

So if someone asks for your expert advice, most of the time they’re not interested in how things exactly work and how you justify the things you know are valid. All they are interested in is assurance of making the right decision. Own your expertise (of course only to the extent you are truly an expert in your field) and let others own theirs. By stepping in the role of the expert, you provide comfort and certainty enabling others to make a good decisions, which of course is valuable.

Try it out! Next time you’re in an expert position, skip explaining yourself and…

Be the Expert