A friend was sharing with me a story of his current struggles. In the story, he talked about the certainty of something occurring based on a friend’s remarks. I questioned the certainty of what was offered. My friend had trust in the person that shared it with him. He felt strongly that the certainty suggested was the only thing that could occur.
This conversation troubled me but I wasn’t, at first, sure why. In reflection, what became obvious to me is how often we confuse opinion, knowledge, and experience. In this case, the certainty that something specific will occur came from someone who did not have domain or subject matter knowledge around the situation nor did they have any first-hand experience with the struggle my friend was going through.
We often talk to others about our situations. They readily share their thoughts. But we rarely ask ourselves first, what knowledge or experience does the other person have to offer “good” ideas versus those individuals that will offer logical opinions that may or may not have any chance of helping us.
Our friends with opinions mean well. They are good people who care.
What our friends many times lack, is the knowledge or experience directly related to that which we cannot figure out, or the struggle we are faced with, or the obstacle that seems insurmountable. Our friends never start voicing their solution by first saying “I don’t have any knowledge or experience about this but here are my thoughts. They are only one person’s opinion concerning the topic that troubles you”. We ourselves never think of our words of help as being only an opinion when we have no specific subject matter knowledge or experience.
We make the mistake of forgetting that an opinion is only a point of view or judgment that may not be based on any facts or knowledge by definition.
Having subject matter knowledge differs from experience in a subject matter area. Experience has perspective, trial & error, and context all interwoven within a person’s subject matter knowledge. Someone without experience merely carries facts and tools with them into a situation. Having knowledge doesn’t mean that it will be applied properly in a situation.
Experience has the benefit of keeping score of things that worked and those that didn’t, using the same knowledge and tools as the inexperienced but subject matter trained rookie. There is a huge difference between them. Both, though, can be valuable when seeking help. Especially when we understand that a subject matter trained rookie can help us gain knowledge and an experienced person in a subject matter area can help us better navigate through what we are facing at this moment in time.
The skill you need to develop is to find ways to see what the person you are looking to for help brings with them to your conversation. Do they have knowledge, experience or merely are they good people who care that will share their opinion with empathy?
Knowing the answer to this question could mean the difference between spinning your wheels following opinions or gaining traction and movement by using the advice given to you from people who are either knowledgeable or experienced (or both) during your time of struggle, uncertainty, or challenge.