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When You Shouldn’t Listen to Experts: 5 Must-Ask Questions

When You Shouldn’t Listen to Experts: 5 Must-Ask Questions

Experts can be dangerous.

I’m the number one proponent of using the other 8 hours to learn from others, grow, and advance, but whenever you find yourself seeking information, guidance, or answers from an authority figure such as an expert or doctor, watch out! You just might save your life.

Last year James Arthur Ray, a self-help motivational speaker, was convicted of negligent homicide for the deaths of three people. He had a strong and passionate following, and for the three who died and the 18 others who were treated at hospitals, they followed him too far. James held a week-long spiritual retreat in Arizona where the members participated in a 36-hour fast, sleep deprivation, and a deadly sauna-like ceremony where 50+ participants endured sweltering heat for 2 ˝ hours.

As far as I know, participants were free to leave at any time. The doors weren’t locked and there were no burly guards blocking the exit. So why didn’t they? They followed an authority figure. They hung up their judgment and ability to think for themselves at the door. They looked to the leader — the expert to whom some paid $9,000 for the event — to tell them what to do. Even after feeling ill, vomiting, and collapsing, participants chose to stay. Of course, you would have run for the door . . . or would you?

Ever since the holocaust, psychologists have been intrigued by our obedience to authority figures. In one of the most infamous experiments, a completely demented and absolutely brilliant Stanley Milgram tested participants’ willingness to obey an authority figure who told them to administer dangerous shocks to another subject. Shockingly, 65% of the participants administered the highest voltage — even after the subject complained about having a heart condition!

It’s amazing what we’ll do when a stern guy in a lab coat tells us to, but what does this have to do with you? Everything. Thought leaders and experts can inspire and provide solutions, but if you follow them blindly, you can do yourself harm. Similar to the work I’ve done on the dangers of groupthink and social networking, here are a few questions on how to get the most from experts without losing yourself in the process:

1.  What’s the downside? This should always be question #1. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Make sure you are clear on this before you do anything.

2.  Does this make sense? You don’t have to be an expert to have common sense. If you get advice or are asked to do something, step back and ask yourself if it makes sense.

3.  Why shouldn’t I do this? All signs point to yes, but can you think of any reason why you shouldn’t take the expert’s advice? If you are experiencing cognitive dissonance, you may not want to question what you’re doing, but it’s at this point where you need to the most.

4.  What harm could come if I don’t do this? Will the world end? Will you lose a limb? Sometimes we build things up in our head to where we feel intense pressure to do something, but this question is great for deflating things and for putting the situation back into perspective.

5.  What would happen if I waited? Really bad decisions are often made without much thought or reflection. Take a step back. Give yourself some time before you commit to anything.

In your quest to find answers and guidance, be careful not to blindly follow experts and authority figures. Make sure you ask yourself these five questions before you act. Trust me, I’m an expert…

(Question Authority image by Mira HartfordCC 2.0)

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Read more: Life, Self-Help

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Robert Pagliarini

Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with improvement, making the most of his time and energy, and inspiring others to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work and the co-founder of The Band of Brothers Foundation, a non-profit helping kids around the world.


+ add your own
8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting and good advice, often one has to follow your instincts as well. One can listen to an expert and have an inner intuitive voice telling you that there is something wrong here. Always be prepared to research your topic of interest and look for a variety of sources.

5:23AM PDT on May 6, 2012

Thanks. Yes, one has to use own judgement whether to accept the expert opinion or not. Expert is not always right in all situations.

4:54AM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

"Trust me, I’m an expert…"
You have not earned my TRUST, but you have given very sane and important advice, which I agree with, therefore I accept it with thanks!

4:14AM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

think. it is not illegal yet!

4:49PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

We don't NEED some crazy people to tell us what to do. We don't NEED bought off criminals in our government to tell us what to do. We are BORN with a BRAIN and a HEART. All we need to do is USE it.

2:38PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

Excellent advice!

1:33PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012


11:31AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

always question authority

8:38AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012


7:29AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

great reminder of personal responsibility--the flipside of the events where soldiers and others' defense has been "I was only following orders" perhaps...

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