At a recent conference one speaker after another was introduced as an ‘expert’ by the chair. Most arrived at the podium and commenced their respective addresses without comment, until finally one stopped for pause before getting started and said, “Do you know what, I’m just not comfortable with that term… But I’m happy to share my 25 years of experience, and discuss the issues you’re facing..…” It begs the question: should we really trust all the experts?

Do self proclaimed experts truly know bestThe first thing to say is that there are a lot of them out there; Experts in physical intervention, restraint, preventing and managing challenging behaviour etc. You’ve probably even met some. Individuals who are quicker to tell you that they are an ‘expert’ than to show you they have domain specific experience that you could utilise to address the immediate challenge you and your organisation are facing. They also often have a one-way, steam-roller type communication style wherein all of your politely raised qualifying questions are swept to one side unanswered as they continue to make their pre-practiced claims to being the absolute authority. The sub-text of any consultation is ‘You WILL do as I say, because I know best!’

This is not a tenable position. So we need to delve a little deeper into the world of the ‘expert’. Let’s start by looking at what an ‘expert’ actually is. The word ‘originally comes from Old French ‘espert’ which means "experienced, practiced, skilled" and from the Latin ‘expertus’ meaning "tried, proved, known by experience.." In practice the individual afforded this status is typically "somebody who obtains results that are vastly superior to those obtained by the majority of the population.."

Marie-Line Germain is an Associate Professor of Human Resources and Leadership with a Ph.D. in Leadership and a specialisation in Human Resource Development. Her research interests include leadership, organisational psychology, and human resource development, with a specific focus on the concept of human ‘expertise’. Following extensive study she has defined the behavioural dimensions in ‘experts’. The 16-item scale contains both objective and subjective domains of expertise. It states that as an expert the ‘person’ in question:

  • Has knowledge specific to a field of work.
  • Shows they have the education necessary to be an expert in the field.
  • Has the qualifications required to be an expert in the field.
  • Has been trained in their area of expertise.
  • Is ambitious about their work in the company.
  • Can assess whether a work-related situation is important or not.
  • Is capable of improving themselves.
  • Can deduce things from work-related situations easily.
  • Is intuitive in the job.
  • Is able to judge what things are important in their job.
  • Has the drive to become what they are capable of becoming in their field.
  • Is outgoing.
  • Is charismatic.
  • Is self-assured.
  • Has self-confidence.

The problem with the ‘experts’ that so many of us have experienced are probably accounted for by the last four domains. In the age of the selfie and social media, it seems that there is a growth in self-absorption and self-belief, and a commensurate rise in the number of ‘self-proclaimed experts’. The presence of misplaced self-belief is confirmed by new research. A team from Cornell University and Tulane University have undertaken research that reveals that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts, a phenomenon known as “overclaiming”. 

The team warn that the tendency to ‘overclaim’, especially by self-perceived ‘experts’, may actually mean that in practice individuals are less likely to educate themselves in precisely those areas in which they consider themselves knowledgeable. The fear is that in safety critical areas – such a restraint or physical intervention – there could be potentially disastrous outcomes. A spokesperson for the team said, “Continuing to explore when and why individuals overclaim may prove important in battling that great menace—not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge…”

So who do you place your trust in? In truth the only you can answer that question. After all the support you require is unique to the situation you are facing. The good news is that you can quickly exclude those making false claims on expertise by undertaking thorough due diligence. Long before the consultation actually gets started in earnest, the focus should be on establishing both the credentials of the knowledge supplier and their track recording in meeting the needs of clients.

The Securicare team is comprised of longstanding training practitioners, service managers, nurses, physiotherapist and applied behavioural analysts. Collectively they have over 200 years in frontline, operational roles. They are waiting to hear from you and open a dialogue, about the challenges you face and then move forward in a way that instils confidence and trust.  

SecuriCare offer a range of courses designed to enable support workers, carers and foster families to best respond to any ‘Challenging Behaviour’ that may occur. All programmes are finalised after full training needs analysis and delivered by experienced frontline practitioners. Click to see our ‘Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour’ Course which includes ‘Positive Behaviour Management’ techniques designed to minimise the need for any kind of restrictive intervention. You can also take a look at our person centred Behaviour Planning Service.

Contact us for more information and to discuss your needs: E: trainers@securicare.com or T: 01904 492442