by Haleigh J. Kent-Bryant
I will never know more about economics than an economist. No matter how much I learn about medicine, a patient should not accept my knowledge in place of a doctor’s expertise. An engineer will always know more about their creations than I will. As communications professionals, we possess mastery in the tools of our own trade. Part of our work involves supporting experts in subjects outside our profession, however. In those situations, we must embrace our superpower as an interested non-expert in the room. Interested non-experts both appreciate the significance of their client’s work and require quality communications to understand it.
You understand the main idea, but not the jargon:
Communications professionals distill the most compelling aspects of their colleagues’ work to engage their intended audiences. This work must involve reducing jargon and technical language. If communications professionals embrace the position of an interested non-expert, they can improve a subject matter expert’s outreach with one simple statement, “Please simplify this concept.”
Your subject matter expert can practice communicating beyond their colleagues:
We all know what it looks like to discuss our work with fellow experts – and we also know that conversations between insiders don’t necessarily prepare us for reaching a wider audience. When you position yourself as an interested non-expert, you provide your subject matter expert important practice in describing their work outside their immediate circles. This can help both you and a subject matter expert better discuss their area of expertise. Additionally, it can be essential practice if your colleague also speaks to media professionals about their work.
You avoid communicating incorrect information:
As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Embracing the role of an interested non-expert in the room strengthens your humility, which both extends respect towards the expert’s knowledge and reduces your chances of accidentally sharing incorrect interpretations of information in your work.
You channel your organization’s broader audience:
Communicators have the privilege of speaking for essential people who might not be represented in the meeting room, like customers, community members, or even other employees. By framing yourself as an interested non-expert, you can help your organization better meet the communications needs of stakeholders outside your inner circle. This is critical for the organization’s success.
Communications professionals are experts in their own right. We possess mastery over the tools necessary to effectively engage with the wide variety of people, policies and interests that determine the organization’s success. When dealing with subject matter experts though, our greatest power is the simple act of embracing what we don’t know.