Do you know of someone in your life…maybe a partner, boss, spouse, student, employee or leader who exhibits the following:
1. They always seem to know every answer…
2. They never listen to others’ opinions…
3. They send you e-mails with all caps in certain sentences to let you know how right they really are…
4. They want to argue or make you look foolish in front of a group, and as you look closer, you realize they are multi-tasking, answering text messages or just not paying attention…why should they have to pay attention? They know it all…
Yes…the above description lays out in spades just 4 of the signs of someone who is what we call a “know it all”…which is actually a syndrome used to describe people who have a need to always look right, be right, make the teacher or boss look bad, and so forth.
We all have people like this in our lives. I have had a few of these ” know it alls” in my training programs over the last few years. In the early days of their “wisdom sharing”, I am all ears…I am excited to hear about what they know and how it may help add value to the other students in the program and to the quality of the program. But, after complaining 10 times and sending me e-mails in all caps (because all caps are used in sentences when they really, really know something much more than I do), I start to tune these folks out, because over time, their credibility begins to wane, other students in my classes or team members in a company complain to me that they are irritating, dominating the class or bringing negative energy into the team or grouop.
So, if you have someone in your life who falls into this category, I have a few suggestions.
1. Be patient. These folks obviously have an emotional need that is not being filled somewhere in their lives.
2. Ask the person what they really want and need from always knowing it all and complaining about how you don’t know how to do things. They may need a platform to share their expertise or an outlet where they can be called on for their wisdom.
3. During a conversation, state your idea, and turn to the person who thinks she knows it all, and say “What do you think about this?” (They are more than likely going to disagree or argue with you…so, without caving in, simply see if there is anything in their answer that is valuable).
4. Carve out your boundaries around this person and make those boundaries crystal clear. At the end of the day, it is not appropriate ever to give the know it all your full attention or constantly give them the stage. State your boundaries on how much “know it all” information you will take and how many times you want to hear from each person.
5. Speak to the person privately who is the know it all about their behavior. Someone who is dominating the conversation or who is the “know it all” often comes back to bite you as the leader. The other people in the room, in the classroom or on your team will perceive you as someone who does not know how to deal with difficult people. Set up a time to speak privately to this person and say “You know…you offer so much value to our team, yet there are times when you speak up so often or complain so often that it seems to water down your great ideas. I believe you could be so much more effective by speaking less and listening more and when you do speak, use a positive, collaborative discussion with the team. They want to feel like they are being heard as well.” I would use this approach and then observe the know it all for about 3 months. If things don’t turn around, it is time to get some help (probably a coach or maybe even a therapist…I am not a therapist, but there may be something serious going on with someone who constantly has to criticize, be right and be in command of each discussion).
6. When all else fails, seek outside help. It may be time to bring in a coach, consultant or even a therapist. But…do not let a situation like this go without addressing it swiftly!
I heard a leader say recently something like this: “You know…he thinks he knows it all, and he doesn’t. He actually has less experience than the rest of the team, so it is very annoying to the experts on our team who do know the answer…he is truly making himself look foolish and he is hurting his credibility.”
Those words will stick with me forever…the best approach always is to come into each new experience with a beginner’s mind. When it’s time to show your knowledge, use it wisely and it will land like a velvet glove!