Relationships are important, and are pretty much everywhere – we start with our parents, then go to school and manage our friends, then we usually go to university or college and have to spread ourselves thin between family, friends, and professors, and finally most of us end up in jobs. And no one tells us how to have relationships, there is no class about cooperation, empathy, collaboration… Sometimes it’s woven between class projects and club activities, but who here had a class about how people work, how to talk, how to me empathetic? Yet these are required in life (unless you’re a hermit, of course, but since you’re on this blog, you’re probably not a hermit). I know many people who say, “Ugh, I hate people!” but what they really mean is that they hate assholes, douchebags, or people who get on their nerves.


There will always be people who get on our nerves. Because we’re all different. We’re bound to come across someone whose thinking is different, who has different goals and ways of working. But we have to work together (ok, we don’t *have to* have to, but that’s coaching approach is a different issue; for the sake of this post let’s assume we want money and/or career, therefore we have to work with other people) and collaborate with others. And, it’s just nice to be ok with other people (unless they hurt us or others, then by all means, kick their ass) and be open-minded to other ways of thinking, cultural behaviors, upbringing, etc.

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.

Hellen Keller

American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer

Bottom line is, t’s essential to know how to work with other people. As Instructional Designers, design thinking facilitators, workshoppers, UX designers or researchers – collaborations is key, interviews are abunch, and people are always around. Subject Matter Experts are always around.


Are there any rules about how to work with Subject Matter Experts, or other people around? I’m glad you asked! Here’s a quick and easy recipe!



From their previous projects to cultural background, make an effort to get to know your SME. Connect with them on the professional level, assure them you know what they're talking about, keep them active in discussing their subject, and value their opinion. But also be aware of their personal story as well, so you can offer support or sympathy when needed.


That is, ask your SME how they like to work, explain how you like to work, and discuss "meeting in the middle" somehow. Don't force them to use your tools just because it's easier for you, but rather explore their preference. Give them some freedom and let them be part of the process. The collaboration includes everyone, so they need to have some influence over the environment they work in.


Be sure that everyone involved knows their responsibilities, but also confirm they know the processes. Set up tasks and deadlines, and be clear and concise about what the expectations are. Don't overpromise and sugarcoat - explain what you can do, and what is beyond your powers, and be honest about plans and outcomes. Know when to push back and when to be open to new ideas. Make sure to respect SME schedules.


Cherish the relationship growth. Mention when SMEs improved and maybe don't need your support that much, highlight when they were inquisitive and proactive, and also admit when you learned something from them. Everyone likes to be recognized, but also appreciate how they showed interest in their own growth and in learning the ropes of writing. That deserves a high five.



Being open, appreciative, and helpful can go the extra mile. SMEs are essential to our work, and making them feel like part of the process and the solutions is vital. Let’s not treat them as expendable providers of Ms PowerPoint presentations with content – let’s make them part of the Learning and Development families! The four rules I presented above are fairly easy, but most importantly rely on human contact, value of work, and communication. Of course there is more – and in each L&D team there will be more. But in my experience, these are the core rules to establish collaboration and appreciative environment that will only benefit in the future.