Standing up for the skills of the expert communicator

May 29, 2016

Have you ever wandered over to your head of finance and told them how they should interpret the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill of 2014-15?


Funny how comms people often find colleagues from other professional disciplines advise us about comms subjects of which they have little knowledge or experience.

Knowing how to tweet does not make a social media manager, any more than spending your pocket money on sweets doesn’t make an economist.

A little knowledge can give us an inflated idea about how expert we are in any given topic.

This is the Dunning-Kruger effect, “in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is.”

That is, they don’t know what they don’t know.

The communicator can respond in a few ways to these encounters

  • Self-doubt: ‘S/he must think I’m an idiot’
  • Professional-doubt: ‘Perhaps I am in a ‘fluffy’ dumb-ass job’
  • Explosive anger: ‘Who does this numpty think s/he is?’
  • Inspiration: ‘Perhaps there is wisdom in pondering on this fool’s proposition’
  • Change-making: ‘It’s time to show the world the sophistication and nuance in the skillsI am honing and the result of great comms’
  • Resignation: ‘For the love of the sweet Lord, get me wine now’

I bet this happens in loads of professions – I’ve certainly seen it happen in communications, digital and marketing: the best experts are those who know what they don’t know.

And the self-proclaimed ‘guru’ is very likely to be the last person you want to work with.

I’ll happily admit that I’m learning as I go: through trial and error, reading and talking to people who are doing good things, and working out where I currently sit in the many grey areas where there are no right answers.

When people ask or comment about something blindingly obvious, ludicrously stupid or anything that displays they have a only basic understanding of an area I have experience of – I take it as a win.  It reminds me I have an incomplete but considerable depth of knowledge that I’m proud to build on.

Here’s a doodle I did on this theme, from a comms recruitment angle. (I doodle and scrawl on comms and work stuff over at if you want to take a look.)




  1. Phil Morcom

    Oh yes. You may be able to hear the sound of bells ringing from there Hilary! Everyone communicates as part of their everyday existence which means they can tell us how to do our jobs. And they do. Ho hum. I can drive a bit. Might tell Mr Rosberg shrew he is getting it wrong…

    • Phil

      For some reason my phone converts ‘where’ to ‘shrew’. And for some other reason have called you Hilary not Helen. Conflating you with a former acquaintance. Apologies. Time to go back to bed and not pretend to know anything about effective communication! Phil



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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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