Re-evaluating the Concept of Expertise
Probably common among the beliefs in our profession is the belief that we need to come off as an expert. For instance, if I am a divorce lawyer, I may want to give off the impression that I am an expert in all the ins and outs of a divorce case. I have been there, I have heard it all, seen it all, researched it all - this may be a very tempting template to present. We want our clients’ trust (and business), right?
Have you noticed when taking a walk on a bright summer day how easy it is to see the silhouette of your shadow? So what would be the shadow side of this brilliance, this expertise? Experience and training do count. But is that all?
If one creates an idealized sense of self, such as “expert lawyer”, does that leave room for the new, the unexpected, the creative to get through? What happens when we come up short of our idealized image? Can anyone ever meet their idealized self image perfectly? Is that truthful, realistic or authentic? Have we made it wrong to be human beings?
What is the need behind creating a self image of expertise? Is it to portray competence or is it to act competently? And what does competent, effective representation really mean? Is it trapped inside the four corners of precedent, experience, training and research? Why is there a tendency to inflict solidity unto competence? What if one’s ability to be effective increased with the ability to be more fluid, to listen deeply, to make space for a new way? I’m talking about growth here, growing as people, as professionals. I am suggesting that true mastery invites moments of not knowing, understanding the wisdom in humility. There can be fear with not knowing, fear that no answer will come, fear that we will fail, that we will look foolish or that we will lose our livelihood. But are we really acting from a position of strength, of wisdom, when we reject, react or desensitize from our fear?
But what will the clients think,? you might ask. They are coming to you for answers after all. Yet what if your affect of “expert” translates to a client as arrogance, superiority, rejection and/or judgment? When a client comes to see a lawyer at a moment of crisis, isn’t there an emotional level involved? Doesn’t the client need to feel safe to disclose all of the relevant facts? I submit that having “expertise” in not knowing translates in the ability to show empathy. If we are comfortable with our own vulnerability, chances are we will be comfortable with the vulnerability of others also, and allow that vulnerability to inform instead of rushing to “fix it”.
In my experience, to listen deeply, I have to let go of what I want to say, what I am dying to respond to - I have to let go of the agenda. In deep listening, I have to let the words of the other in, let them touch me (meaning feel them) and transform my understanding. This is the space where magic happens. Don't take my word for it - what happens when you just listen with curiosity, without expectations? have you tried it lately?