We’ve all been there. Found ourselves in a moment of complete distrust, when you realize someone is not asking questions to learn, they’re asking questions to prove you don’t know what you’re talking about. More often than not, someone who’s an expert in their field will be able to get out of this corner at which they’ve been forcefully pushed into. However, you’ll never have the same respect for whoever put you there again. This is why, if you’re a consultant of any kind, you should not accept someone putting you there, and if you plan to ever hire a consultant in the future, you need to avoid putting anyone in that corner. I’ll gladly tell you why.
To you as an expert
You are a proclaimed (whether through yourself or others) expert in your field. Your input is what helps companies progress and grow as an entity, whether it’s their social media strategy or where to manufacture their hardware. They’ve reached out to you, because they have acknowledged that some advice is needed in order to best help some part of their business.
You’ve agreed to help them and they pay the charge necessary in order to acquire your services. As you set to work, you’ll undoubtedly have the manager of whichever department requested outside help hanging over to make sure the expense for hiring you is justified. This is when you start getting questions and get into the key of this post. You need to quickly determine whether the questions are educational or simply destructive.
If someone starts questioning your abilities with no reason for doing so, I see it as a direct insult. The moment you start questioning my abilities, maybe even before I get to work, you are either trying to tell me you’re better off doing it yourself (which makes no sense having just hired me), or that you off the bat think I’m no good for the job ahead. Here are some signs you are having your abilities questioned:
Your manager is not the one who hired you
Alright, this might sound a bit far-fetched, but just imagine this. You are the social media manager of a company. During a quarterly meeting the CMO decides he wants better results on the social media front and decides you need outside help. As I am sure you can imagine, there are certainly some out there who would take it as an insult, rather than an opportunity to learn and improve. Thus, when the consultant comes in, many in the social media manager’s position tend to start questioning them with the sole purpose of trying to come out on top (which just about never happens by the way, so don’t embarrass yourself in front of your company).
Questions are not focused around a relevant topic
This is one to look out for. You’ll notice this if someone starts asking questions, they look for the first question which receives an “uhm…” The moment they hear this, they’ll dig deeper into whatever that question revolved around, which may not have anything to do with the topic you’re actually discussing, as again, the purpose is to boost someone’s ego, rather than staying productive and on schedule.
They think they’re ahead of you
I know you’ve experienced this one. You’re working on something as the foremost expert and someone says “Well you might want to try this…” They say it boldly, with a bit of a snicker, making sure everyone around heard it. Though in your mind you’re thinking “I was about to get to that.” They knew you were… But now, you can’t say that because it looks like you’re following their advice, and you can’t tell him no, because you have to do it. They’re simply out to boost themselves and get the best of you in the process.
What to do if you’re being questioned
If you notice any of the signs, or just know someone is out to get you, rather than help you with the job you are doing, you need to stop it. If you let it go on, you will get frustrated and execute your job in a worse manner than before, which will prove them right for questioning you, which wouldn’t have happened had they not questioned you, and so on… Yea, it’s a real catch 22!
You can’t blow up or get angry. You need to assert yourself early on. If someone tries to be tough or funny, while talking down to you in the process, cut their lifeline as early as possible. Be firm, let them know who’s the expert and don’t be afraid to let them have it, as long as you remain professional. If the questioning passed to borderline offensive, then you go directly to the person above them and let them know you’re no longer interested in working with them if this keeps up. Trust me, no company will tell you to get out. They will apologize and deal with the problem internally, where chances are, you won’t be bothered again. No one wants the reputation of failing to operate something both internally AND externally through a consultant.
Alright, maybe I am a little harsh, or a bit biased… but I regret nothing. Having someone ask questions about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why can be a great thing. It can be motivating and you’re ability to provide excellent replies will greatly help your reputation. Not to mention, the best way to learn is teaching others. It will build and bring your confidence to a whole new level.
This is why, when someone starts questioning your knowledge with no reason to do so, very often for petty things such as age, background or even gender, it’s nothing but destructive for all parts. You can’t do your job properly and your client is wasting money. Know your place, but make sure your clients know theirs as well.
If you have any questions on this or have a topic you’d like me to write about, don’t be afraid to let me know in the comments.