Tuesday, May 07, 2013

9 guides for communicators who work with big-ego experts

Communicators who work with experts eventually run into the big-ego expert--the one who's all too aware of his importance and wanting to be sure you are, too. I had a boss who used to refer to them as people who were "reading their own press releases and believing them," and I call them the ones I have to pull away from the microphone.

No matter what you say about  them, big-ego experts are a real challenge for communicators. Often, it's that ego that reporters notice when they're dealing with your difficult expert, and big egos are sometimes behind the behavior of experts who blow off media interviews and other opportunities. An egotist's expectation that you'll be lining up those promotional opportunities creates a demand that sometimes means other, less pushy, experts get less attention.

What's a professional communicator to do? For now, I say: Retreat to the bookshelf to get smart about that ego. I've worked with my share of big egos, and have found it takes extra help to develop the non-anxious and effective methods you'll need to handle those hotheads and microphone-grabbers. Here are eight useful references you should consult--and share with your team--so you can get better at handling big egos, even if only in self-defense:
  1. Why Is It Always About You? looks at the narcissist and, more importantly, how you can set boundaries to keep one from running right over you. A short, good read.
  2. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't is worth reading and then passing on to your manager. The first chapter alone documents the cost of maintaining a corporate culture with a**holes in it. For communicators, a good internal discussion could revolve around how and whether you'll tolerate these characters among the experts you're promoting, and how your team will handle those situations. The book will tell you the cost to organizations that don't have this conversation--and it's high.
  3. Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job will help you learn how to deal with experts of all types, although you'll find most of them type under ISTJ. Use the book to learn how to deal with them effectively. It may not be ego you're running up against, just their personality preferences.
  4. Introduction to Type: A Guide to Understanding Your Results on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator gets you even deeper into personality types. Be sure to read the "in times of deep stress" portion of the profiles to see how your experts might behave when you push them outside their boxes.
  5. The Power of a Positive No: Save The Deal Save The Relationship and Still Say No is a great negotiation tool for communicators who need to say no to important experts and still preserve a relationship.
  6. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most helps you get to the meat of the matter in thoughtful and careful ways.
  7. Tangling with Tyrants: Managing the Balance of Power at Work is recommended by some of my readers, focusing more the the boss as bully. It's a Kindle book, and Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free in Kindle ebook format.
  8. Team Geek: A Software Developer's Guide to Working Well with Others is a guide communicators can read first, then hand off to the coders they work with. The book recommends adopting the "servant leader" approach and advises smart coders to "lose the ego." There's even a useful chapter on "Working with Poisonous People" that might come in handy for you.
  9. Assholes: A Theory was suggested to me by a communicator who attended my recent presentation on 10 things communicators don't know about experts and vice versa. I love getting leads like this one; this audience member shared a picture of the book on her cellphone, so I'd remember the title. More of a think piece than a survival guide, this one has insights you'll appreciate if big egos are part of your work life.
Big-ego experts are always on the agenda at my workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Seats are already filling for the June 13 session in Washington, DC, and there's a substantial discount if you register by May 16, although all registration will stay open until May 31 or all the slots are taken, whichever comes first. One university communicator, after the last workshop, said, "If you ever have the opportunity to take a workshop with @dontgetcaught, do it! Best training I've ever had. Informative and eye-opening."  I hope you can join me for this session in June.

This post updates and expands one I published in 2012

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