I’ve often felt like I’m too young for this job.
What could a person in their twenties have to offer someone who’s two, three decades older?
Don’t you need life experience to be a decent Rehab Counsellor?
And seriously, what could a twenty-something possibly know that all the other experts haven’t already tried?
There’s that word… expert.
Rehab and return to work management is like an expert’s playground.
You’ve got doctors, specialists, psychologists and stumpologists (OK - I made that one up), every other –ologist you could think of…. plus anybody else with an opinion. That means friends, families, benevolent co-workers, bosses, managers and that guy two doors down who slipped at work and got a massive payout. How’d he do that?
We put a lot of faith in experts. Our clients trust and hope that one day, some expert will finally find the missing piece of the puzzle that puts them back together again.
By the time they come to us, our clients are no strangers to the “expert opinion”.
And yet, none of those expert opinions have helped them get unstuck.
If expertise was all it took, your client wouldn’t be sitting in front of you, saying (or thinking) something along the lines of:
“Let’s see what you’ve got that I haven’t already tried yet.”
And I know the feeling of terror that comes with those clients who just make you want to throw your hands in the air and say, "yep – I seriously have no idea what to do now."
Aren’t you supposed to have a plan? Well…
Whose Expertise Is It Anyway?
I’ve worked myself into the ground trying to come up with The Answer ™ to my clients’ problems. I’d agonise over transferable skills, analyse possible job options and bang my head against a wall trying to discuss the benefits of work with my clients and their doctors.
Nothing moved forward. Nobody cared.
To my clients, I became just another person with an opinion who let them down because I couldn’t fix them, right the wrongs of the system and give them their old life back.
The last thing your client needs in their life is another expert. They have plenty.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to have all of the answers for your clients, and this feeling is especially pronounced when you’re a new graduate and you feel like you have none of the answers.
Experience is important, expertise is needed, but you already have the most important expert right there in the room.
It’s your client.
And you don’t need 28 years of experience plus a doctorate to start asking them some better questions.
Seriously, It’s Not About You
I often still catch myself feeling like an idiot because I don’t know what to do yet, what to recommend or what the plan should be. I get caught up in a trope I know all too well:
“You’re too inexperienced, you don’t know anything, you’re a big fraud and everybody knows it.”
It’s times like this when I thank my brain for that story (broken record that it is) and remind myself that seriously. it. is. not. about. you.
The experience that is crucial, and the experience that is mostly ignored, belongs to our clients.
Only they can answer questions like:
- What’s missing here?
- What’s working and what isn’t?
- Where do you feel stuck?
- What do you wish people knew about you?
- What matters to you and how can we do more of that?
And those are just a couple. You need exactly zero years of experience to be curious. It doesn’t cost anything to listen, hear and seek understanding.
And you’ll be one of the few people who do. Our clients are sick of being told what to do by experts who don’t get it and don’t listen.
Our real expertise lies in being able to help our clients draw on their own experience, their own expertise, to start making choices about where they want to go next.
I’ve been playing with this idea of shared expertise for a little while now. And what’s an idea worth if you can’t turn it into a venn diagram?
Shared Expertise and The Sweet Spot
Thinking about sharing expertise has been a revelation for me. Our expertise as health professionals only becomes relevant and useful through the lens of our clients’ experience, their values and their unique insight into their own lives.
Asking big and powerful questions helps us find the sweet spot, where we can exchange expertise with our clients, back and forth, to move towards an outcome that is meaningful and valuable to them.
If we’re lucky, we might even stumble across a big, hairy audacious goal that catapults us and our clients forward.
Every meeting you have with your client in which you are the expert is a missed opportunity.
Being the expert is boring.
The question-askers get to have some fun. First of all, a question-asker doesn’t run themself ragged trying to solve someone else’s problems. They don’t have to shoulder the burden of having all the answers and engineering a plan for someone else’s recovery.
Question-askers get to be curious. They get to be humble. They aren’t plagued by the insecurity of not knowing it all because that means they get to work with their client to figure it out. Question-askers build partnerships and get out of the driver's seat so that their client can take back the wheel.
I think I’m OK with riding shotgun for now. Are you?
Let's Celebrate the Beauty in Not Knowing It All:
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Further reading: Michelle Loch at Rewired Leadership has been instrumental in my learning around what it means to be a facilitator for my clients rather than the expert! If you want to have more powerful conversations with your clients, please consider one of her programs.
Feature image by Melpomene/shutterstock.com