Why do we listen to experts?

Why do we ‘test’ them, to see if they really are experts in their field?

What does it take to lead well with expertise?

Here, red10‘s Hazel Howard shares a true story and reflects on the psychology of leading and influencing using expertise.

When do we start complying with authority figures?

From a young age we recognise that parents, teachers, doctors/physicians, etc. all know more than we do; in our, and others’ eyes they are seen as authority figures through their knowledge and skills.

As we are growing up we are taught to respect authority figures. We learn from them and they can influence our thinking in what they say, how they say it and how much we respect them.

What does it take for someone to ‘command’ authority?

In recognising the power of our ability to be influenced by authority, there are two questions we should always ask ourselves:

  1. Is this person truly an expert in the field we are positioning them in as an authority figure?
  2. How truthful can we expect the expert to be here?

When having an authority figure in business works

Let’s visit an organisation that needed a new HR Database to capture all information on employees’.

Within the team they knew what they wanted the system to do, but they didn’t know if, and how, it could be done. They invited a number of HR Database providers to came in and pitch a system that would be perfect for the organisation. As predicted each one promised every one of the organisation’s needs could be met – if only they purchased their system.  Every one of the sales people were an expert in their field of selling; so each pitch was executed well.

However, the organisation was looking for an expert in HR Systems (our first question) not in selling, so our second question becomes more valid:

How truthful can we expect the expert to be here?

Testing out expertise

When probed, some presentations started to fall apart at the seams…the system could only perform so far and could certainly not be adapted to the HR needs of the organisation.

One pitch did stand out from the rest; the Provider company had brought along the ‘expert’ – the person who could truly talk HR as well as HR Systems. They had been recruited into the Provider company to answer all the questions they knew the potential client would have. They were, in fact, the expert. The authority figure. They were able to explain the pitfalls and what work had been completed on the system to address them. They were honest and had the client’s needs at heart; and had built their business model on being a reliable, trusted, expert partner.

They were not only identified as an expert – but identified as a truthful expert – someone who would ‘get on side’ with the organisation and work with them as a client partner.  This influenced the organisation’s decision to go with that specific provider.

Leading with Expertise

The expert was then brought into the organisation and started to work alongside both the HR team and the business itself; answering and addressing each of the needs of the clients.

By caring, listening to understand and appreciating the apprehension of some of the HR colleagues, the expert was able to set up communication and training packages to support their knowledge gaps and capability skills to a level that satisfied their needs – both immediate and longer term.

The expert spoke in a language that the business understood and needed to hear – and was able to answer their questions, no matter how detailed, specific, simple or complex – they had truly seen and heard it all before.

Expertise with Humility

On a couple of occasions when a complex question or challenge arose, the expert took it away and worked it through with the IT team to tailor the solution to fit the client’s needs.

They didn’t bluff their way through the fix.

Expertise with Partnership

The database system was then rolled out across the business.

The roll-out of the system into the business became easy. The expert was the person who could direct the work – the rest of the organisation had to drive it; but this proved to be the winning formula.

The teams across the business had total confidence in the system, that by now had so many advocates by the time it came to launch, it was already a familiar ‘friend’ to all colleagues.

By having a trusted authority figure – someone to look to for expert advice – and who has the client’s best interests at heart, we can see how we can be guided towards a successful outcome.

Summing Up

It’s no surprise, then, that authority is one of the “Influencing Rules” rules highlighted by Professor Robert Cialdini: ways in which humans-beings are hard-wired to respond to persuasive arguments.

You can read about the other seven of Cialdini’s Rules here.