When an SME is Upset ... WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

If you’re a content producer, then chances are you need subject matter experts to define, develop and vet your work.

Sometimes, that SME is unhappy with how they or their contributions are represented in a piece.

They get upset—with you.

How you respond can derail a project and damage your professional reputation. Or, it can boost your credibility and create opportunities for future work.

First, think before your respond to a complaint.

Unless a deadline is nigh, do not immediately react to a heated email or voice message.

First, take deep breathes and get up from your desk.

Move around. Think things over.

Once you’re ready, initiate a call or video chat. Email and texts rarely are the right communications channel.

Hear out the SME. Listen, don’t interrupt. Then relate the main points of contention.

Discuss the problem and how it can be rectified.

Is the issue clearly defined?

Was there an inaccuracy or error you can quickly correct?

Work through what can be feasibly fixed immediately—and what will require more time or people.

Correct any errors or incorporate needed changes as quickly as possible, even if it holds up production.

Be sure to always involve SMEs in the approval process, so mistakes are caught early.

During initial discussions, explain your content creation process and where reviews fit in.

Be clear about internal policies regarding editorial discretion.

Give advanced notice when reviews will take place.

And give someone at least 48 hours to respond.

By incorporating the SME into the editorial process, he/she is able to feel like a part of the project.

Embed time for SME reviews in your draft timelines. Revisions, too.

That way you’re less likely to be upset when an obstacle occurs.

Know too some people are just more sensitive than others and more demanding when they want something done.

If needed, bring in more team members to mediate.

And, of course, maintain high quality standards and you won’t have to compromise.


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