Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 52;   December 28, 2011: How to Reject Expert Opinion: I

How to Reject Expert Opinion: I

by

When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
Signers of the 1938 Munich Agreement

Neville Chamberlain (Great Britain), Edouard Daladier (France), Galeazzo Ciano (Italy), Adolf Hitler (Germany), Benito Mussolini (Italy), Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany), and Ernst von Weizsäcker (Germany). These chiefs of state and diplomats would shortly sign the Munich Agreement (September 30, 1938), which gave the Sudetenland to Germany. In the run-up to the conference at which the agreement was signed, Neville Chamberlain and his inner circle adopted a strategy that assumed that Britain's diplomatic and political skills would be sufficient to prevent domination of Europe and certainly Britain by their adversaries, Germany and Italy. Chamberlain failed to consult with experts in the Foreign Office, and elsewhere in the government, who might have raised doubts about the wisdom of this strategy. Those who questioned the strategy were labeled as anti-Nazi and untrustworthy. Photo (cc) Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R69173.

A fairly common pattern found in decisions that have led to major disasters is the rejection of expert opinion, which almost certainly degrades decision quality. Although this rejecting can be a mechanism that supports confirmation bias, it need not be — the rejecting can arise from many sources.

Knowing the tactics of rejection will help you detect and prevent inappropriate rejection of expert opinion, either by individual rejectors or by the group as a whole. Here's Part I of a collection of tactics groups use to reject expert opinion, emphasizing prevention of consultation.

Reject the idea of consultation
Because there's no need to reject an expert's opinion if the opinion can be avoided altogether, rejectors might actively suppress all attempts to consult domain experts. Motivations for suppressing consultation include concerns that the decision might go counter to the rejectors' own preferences, fears that their own status and expertise might be threatened, worries that malfeasance might become evident, and many more.
Arguments against consultation with experts can include concerns about delay, cost, confidentiality, or difficulty in vetting experts. As evidence that consultation is unnecessary, or of limited value, some will point to successful analogous decisions at previous times, or by other organizations.
Reject the foundations of the expert's the field of knowledge
This argument is also high leverage, because it has the virtue that if it works, it applies to all experts in the given field of knowledge. The tactic entails sowing doubts about the state of the field of knowledge that is the basis of the experts' expertise. Even if this tactic fails to prevent the consultation, those doubts can be useful later, as the rejectors try to limit the impact of the experts' recommendations.
Doubts about the state of the field of knowledge might be based, for example, on differences of opinions among experts; recent advances that demonstrate supposed chaos or uncertainty in the field as it was before recent advances; claims of inapplicability to the problem at hand; or even a knowledge-based "smear" campaign based on evident chaos or disorder in distantly related fields of knowledge.
Denigrate experts in general
Denigrating Arguments against consultation with
experts can include concerns about
delay, cost, confidentiality, or
difficulty in vetting experts
experts generally can serve two purposes. It can perhaps suppress consultation altogether, but if that fails, it can provide I-told-you-so ammunition for later rejection of the expert's opinion, if that becomes necessary.
Techniques usually entail raising existential questions about experts in the domain at issue. The goal is to show that "no so-called expert" can possibly help us because — for example — we are the experts because we're way ahead of everyone in the field; experts have an inherent conflict of interest and can't be trusted; or we can't reveal our true situation to anyone without putting our organization at risk.

In Part II, next time, we'll turn our attention the rejection mechanisms that help to dismiss experts' advice.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Reject Expert Opinion: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennyMloZhisWdKdaQwner@ChactekWisDAJvLixmmWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A 19th century shipwright's mast broad axDouble Your Downsizing Damage
Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing. If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance of your company's downsizers.
Ice cream barMake Space for Serendipity
Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it. If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
A Rough-Legged Hawk surveys its domainTake Any Seat: II
In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
A hearing in the U.S. Senate, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is responding to questions about appropriations.What Makes a Good Question?
In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A human marionetteComing November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
Desperation at workAnd on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSHSkiXTQtJFjbPBmner@ChacjKpzrpjVUBvkdbQyoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy new blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.