I am fortunate to work in an environment where a variety of subject matter experts from many different disciplines interact on a daily basis. Each of those individuals comes with significant personal and professional experiences, and their considerable training and education in a particular discipline usually include an ability to think critically. It’s also likely through that combination of experience and training that they’ve become confident in their areas of expertise, in fact that’s one reason we hired them. That unique combination of skills, experience and training can also bring strong opinions and that’s good! Highly skilled associates have the experience to know when something is right or wrong, and we need to hear that.
Folks who’ve developed critical thinking skills will, by nature of that training, question things and that’s exactly what we want! So, how do we make the environment ideal for all those disciplines, skills, knowledge, and opinions?
The single most helpful nugget of advice I ever got was, “Seek first to understand.” Learning to actively listen and understand the thoughts of subject matter experts is essential. We hire them to guide us and we should listen to what they’re saying. Encourage differences in opinion and practice issue opposition, not personal opposition. We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that sometimes with strong skills comes strong opinions and sometimes we disagree. Practice a willingness to agree to disagree about the issue, but not about one another. The concept of win/win has been used so much it’s in danger of being trite but it’s still true. A win can take many different forms, a nugget from an SME can make all the difference if you’re able to recognize and capitalize on it.
I started by saying I’m fortunate to work with a variety of SMEs from different disciplines, and it’s true. Recognizing and celebrating those differences makes for great conversations, great decisions, and great outcomes.