Call us today 1-800-223-2209
Email Us

Langevin's Train-the-Trainer Blog

How to Work with Difficult Subject-Matter Experts

Posted by Langevin Team on 6/9/14 4:00 AM
Find me on:

If I were a SME, what kind of SME would I be? You’ve probably read about difficult types of learners and seen techniques on how to deal with them but did you know there are different types of subject-matter experts as well? If you are an instructional designer you know how important these people are to you. So, it is critical to be aware of these SMEs and to have some survival tips on how to deal with them.


First I will introduce you to several types of SMEs and then I will offer some tips on how to deal with them!


The Hostage SME. This SME does not want to spend any time with you and tries to rush you through the meeting so he or she can get back to work.

Tip: Use a specific agenda with the SME so they know you are being efficient with their limited time. You can also show them a sample task analysis so both of you can stay on task and complete the document together.


The Hidden Agenda SME. This SME doesn’t really want to work with you either but they are bidding on a job upgrade and think that working with you will just be another feather in their cap.

Tip: Fine with you! As long as they give you what you need so you can do your job, you can then contribute towards their hopeful promotion by giving them an autographed copy of your learners’ guide as a parting gift! You can even give them public recognition for their contribution as part of a “Credits” or “Acknowledgments” page in the learners’ guide.


The Wannabee SME. This person is an up-and-coming SME. They are not the real expert you need to work with but their manager assigned them to you because they were available and the real SME was not.

Tip: This one is challenging. You really want to work with the true SME to get the most reliable and accurate information to help you build your course content. Meet with the SME wannabee and get the most out of them that you can. Let them know you may be seeking additional opinions (from the true SME) to help you fill in any gaps. Be sure to emphasize that their contribution is no less valuable than anyone else’s.


So there you have it! Hopefully these tips will help you work with these three specific SMEs on your next instructional design project.


There are other types of challenging SMEs out there—How do YOU handle them?

Instructional Designer Starter Kit

About this Blog

Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts