When building your personal brand, try to avoid the 7 undesirable traits often associated with experts.


I’ve been reading Nance Rosen’s recent articles, like How Does Your Personal Brand Sound?  Her series does a wonderful job of describing behaviors that undermine, rather than build, personal brands.

As she’s pointed out, often simple attitudes or actions (like unmodulated voices) can create barriers to likeability that have nothing to do with an individual’s expertise, but are strong enough to get in the way of long-term relationships.

I’d like to build on her series, and describe The Curse of the Expert, which occurs when someone places more emphasis on their expert status than their expertise.

There’s a narrow line between expertise and expert.  Once the line is crossed, expert status undermines, rather than builds, relationships.

When the line is crossed, rejection quickly replaces attraction.

7 undesirable traits often associated with experts

We’ve all been there!

If you’ve ever been put down by a salesman who spoke in acronyms, a professor who made you feel dumb, or a boss whose impatience is obvious as he tries to show you how to operate the office copier, you’ll probably recognize several of the 7 undesirable expert traits that follow.

I share them to not only evaluate others, but also so you can constantly evaluate yourself as you interact, lead, speak, and write:

  1.  Inflexible. Often, experts are so committed to their ideas, methods, and practices that they become unable to tolerate opposing viewpoints. As a result, they become blind to change, even when change is needed. They “dig in” and defend their expertise, rather than being open to new ideas.
  2. Insensitive. In order for an expert’s passion to inspire others and build a huge following, experts have to communicate their expertise in language others can understand. But, what often happens is that experts speak over the heads of their audience, lacking empathy–or sensitivity–to those who don’t already understand their ideas.
  3. Impatient. One of the obvious ways that expertise without empathy interferes with brand-building is the impatience that experts often exhibit towards those who don’t share their specialized knowledge. They may speak too quickly, use acronyms, jargon (i.e., technical terms), or frown when others ask simple, or “obvious” questions.
  4. Condescending. Often, their impatience comes through as inadvertently condescending statements which leave others feeling dumb and resentful, rather than engaged and interested. “As you’d have remembered, if you read the assigned readings…”
  5. Threatening. Fear often accompanies the resentment that occurs when feeling dumb. Because the message doesn’t make sense, the listener or prospect may distrust the speaker’s or salesperson’s motives. Instead of understanding, they may feel that the expert is trying to take advantage of their naivete. Once again, likeability is replaced by rejection.
  6. Scripted. While interviewing over 500 published authors and marketing experts during the last 10 years, I’ve often noticed that many experts have “scripts” they want to follow, rather than freely engaging in conversations. This always raised my suspicions; Why don’t they want to just talk? What are they trying to hide, or put over on me? Is their expertise really that narrow?
  7. Selfish. Selfish, self-centered individuals are usually tolerated, if not outwardly rejected. People who communicate from their own, narrow perspectives are simply no fun. We’re usually so busy protecting ourselves that we don’t have time to listen to them…or, trust them.

Cultivating empathy

Rather than looking for ways to promote our expertise, as if it were a packaged good product like a soap, deodorant, or new car, perhaps we should be looking for more ways to:

  • Make our expertise more relevant. Instead of looking for ways to tell our story more effectively, maybe we should rethink the links between what we know and our prospect’s goals, frustrations, and problems.
  • Learn to listen better. Maybe we’re speaking when we should be listening; talking, rather than asking. How can we engage in conversations and fewer speeches?
  • Push the envelope. Perhaps we should push ourselves further out on a limb, and–rather than perfecting the delivery of our speech or sales presentation–rethink our expertise and its relevance–reinventing ourselves (before someone does it for us!).

The mark of a true expert

There is a refreshing exuberance to talking to “true experts!” There is a visceral joy of talking to individuals who are at the peak of their accomplishment and ability to make a major contribution to another person’s life.

When talking to true experts, they’re usually not talking! They’re listening. They’re asking. They’re interested. Their expertise fades into the background, except when revealed by their follow-up questions, recommendations, or suggestions.

Maybe, there’s a lesson there?

Have you ever had the opportunity to speak to an author or expert you’ve been following for a long time? How did the interchange go? Did you like them as a person as much as you liked their book or their speech? Did they put you at ease, or make you feel like a commoner visiting the Queen? If you emailed them, what kind of a response did you receive? When they Reply to a Tweet, does it come from them or their assistant? Share your experiences and questions, below, as comments.


Roger C. Parker encourages you to download his free workbook, 99 Questions to Ask Before you Write & Self-Publish a Brand-building Book. You can also use his online form to ask questions about writing and publishing.