Expert Syndrome: How to Avoid It

It isn't always easy to give advice to another. You need to learn how to listen.
Expert Syndrome: How to Avoid It
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 27 June, 2022

Paula tells Sophie that her relationship with her partner is really deteriorating, that she’s not happy at work, and that her family requires more attention than she can give them. Sophie nods while looking at some children playing in the park and replies “Paula, sometimes life isn’t what you expect. You have to be strong and not feel bitter. When I was unhappy, I used to take myself off and go to the park for a walk. Look at me now, I’m so happy with everything…” Sophie is demonstrating expert syndrome.

Woman exhibiting expert syndrome as other isn't really listening.

Do you think Sophie’s words will help Paula feel better?

Probably not. As you know, it’s easy to make the mistake of giving your opinion on something when the other person really just needs to be heard. In fact, Epictetus claimed ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’. Nevertheless, at some point, you’ll either have heard a similar kind of advice to Sophie’s or maybe even offered it yourself. However, far from being useful, this kind of advice can often be irritating and even insulting.

This tendency to preach is what’s called ‘expert syndrome’. It’s not a pathological disorder. It merely refers to the way in which you sometimes feel the urge to talk about your own remedies that have helped you overcome difficult situations at some time or another in your life. Your intentions are good and you want to help the other person. On the other hand, there are some people who behave in this way to demonstrate their superiority and show off their ability to solve their own problems. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, it’s always possible to reeducate these kinds of bad habits and to learn how to communicate more effectively.

Learn how to listen

Listening patiently is a charitable act. To do this, you need to be aware of the mistakes you often make when listening:

  • Wait patiently for the other person to finish telling you about their problems.
  • Eliminate the tendency to judge the lives of others from your own perspective. Don’t tell your story when they need to tell you theirs.
  • It’s not appropriate to interrupt them. In fact, you should offer some kind of incentive for them to continue speaking. For example, by saying things like “I see” or “Hmm” or “You’re right”.
  • Don’t get distracted. In the example at the beginning, Sophie was distracted and looked at the children in the park while Paula was talking. This conveyed to Paula that she wasn’t interested. 
  • Don’t respond superficially. Sometimes, we all just need to be heard and understood, we’re not looking for advice but an outlet. Therefore, it’s a mistake to offer premature help or solutions.
  • Don’t argue. Some people, when you’re talking to them, continually try to refute what you say. Their intentions may be good but it makes communication difficult. If at any time, you feel tempted to do so, avoid it. For instance, eliminate questions like “Why not?”
  • Allow emotional expressions such as crying or being silent and don’t try to control them. This conveys trust and connection.
  • Obviously, the conversation doesn’t end when they finish talking. Indeed, it’s good to go over what’s been said. Furthermore, you should emphasize that you’ve understood what they’ve said to you.
  • Non-verbal communication is essential. Direct your body and your gaze toward them. Let them know with your gestures that you’re willing to listen to them and that you’re interested in what they’re telling you.
friend helping another.

Active listening

Active listening is a skill that can be both learned and taught. Listening actively means paying attention to what the other person says. It means being empathic. In other words, putting yourself in their place. Always remember how important it is to listen. In this way, you’ll avoid expert syndrome.

Image courtesy of Krasnaja Sapocka

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.