How To Stop Being The Expert In The Room And Instead Be A Facilitator


Saturday, 6.32am

Sheffield, U.K.

I have a lot of empathy, and I think that’s where mothering starts. You are there to empathise and facilitate. – Viv Albertine

The world of experts is over – we just haven’t realised it yet.

Sometime in the last five hundred years people realised that knowledge was power and if you could bottle and control knowledge you could control others.

If you could make them believe that you were the expert and they were there to listen and follow what you said then you would effectively own them.

The problem is experts have a track record of making bad decisions.

Don’t treat people as things

There’s a great line in one of Terry Pratchett’s books that goes, “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”

Just think about that in the context of a school, for instance.

Imagine you’re a teacher going into the traditional classroom many of us went to – the one where you stand in front of rows of students, and act as an expert, delivering information for the audience to quietly absorb.

Now, you may be the kind of teacher who knows the names of every student, knows about them and what they are good at and what they want to do with their lives.

Or you might be the kind that sweeps in, sees a sea of faces, delivers a message and sweeps out again.

Regardless of what kind you are the chances are that you have to think about students as statistics, as numbers, as things that have to meet certain standards.

If they don’t then you could get punished individually as a teacher or a school.

It’s clear to any observer that the education systems in most places have a problem – and well meaning people are trying to fix it – by treating everything they can see as a thing.

The buildings, the teachers, the students – they’re all things that can be measured and manipulated and moved.

Is it too harsh to say that has led to evil?

Perhaps – but you can hardly say that what’s happening to young people as they go through many education systems is good.

And “not good” is a step in the wrong direction.

What can we learn from teachers who are trying to do this better?

Help people learn the way they do best

In teaching there is a movement called “Flipping the Classroom”, which in essence is a shift from a lecture based environment where the teacher is an expert to a learning based environment where the teacher is a facilitator.

What’s the difference?

In a traditional classroom most of the time is spent delivering content – standing in front and lecturing to the students, with less time allocated for practice and discussion.

In a flipped classroom, less time is spent delivering content – and more time is spent on practice and discussion.

The details of how this is done can be found in other places – but I particularly like the material from Lodge McCammon about his approach to flipping the classroom.

We can also use this idea of flipping in our own professions.

Take consultancy, for example, a traditionally expert based profession.

Consultants get called in because they are the experts, or so they would like to think.

A consultancy sales pitch will often stress their expertise – try and get across their years of experience and superior knowledge of the subject matter.

This can mean they end up lecturing quite a lot during a pitch – spending most of the time talking about themselves.

How would you turn this pitch around.

You’d start by throwing out everything about yourself – the introduction and history and client list.

That will save you twenty minutes.

Get straight into the situation that you think the client is facing – and briefly describe what’s going on.

For example, let’s say your business is to help businesses sell better online, spend five minutes talking about what the key factors are that contribute to success when it comes to digital retail.

Then, open the conversation up – ask participants how easy or difficult each part of that is for them – let them tell you what is going on in their business.

With that simple step you’re moving from lecturer mode to facilitator mode.

What you’ll find is that people learn by talking things through – resaying things in their own words.

In any pitch you know you’ve gotten the message across when the participants stop talking to you and start discussing the idea themselves – putting it into the language of their business and using their terminology.

That’s when they really get it – really understand what you do.

The better you get at facilitating the conversation the better you will be at selling yourself.

Knowledge is worth nothing and everything

You can’t really charge for your expertise any more.

That’s because there are fundamental problems with the entire supply and demand economics of the knowledge business.

First of all, the supply of knowledge is endless – when you sell what you know you still have it.

Secondly, any one who doesn’t know what you have to tell them can’t tell whether it’s worth anything.

It’s like a book – you can’t tell if it’s any good until you’ve read it.

If you want to be paid for your expertise, then you will find that it gets harder in a world where you are not already the recognised expert.

And the experts get there by putting out lots of material for free – they show you everything before they ask you to buy anything from them.

It’s a strange thing, knowledge.

Its value comes not from giving it away but by helping others get it.

And when you move your way of thinking from seeing people as things to people as people it changes the way you help them get knowledge.

For example, the traditional language of marketing – funnels, prospects, hooks, leads – should make you very uncomfortable.

This kind of language dehumanizes people, it treats them as things, as objects that flow through your marketing system.

And this results in a huge amount of effort being put into manipulating people – and it’s done at every level – most obviously with the media and politics, as you can see if you simply read the news.

But that’s a different problem.

Here’s the takeaway.

When you help people learn, you’ll get paid in turn.


Karthik Suresh

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