How to Deal with the Know-It-All of Office

We all come across ‘Know-it-alls’ in our life. But, how do we deal with these ‘Know-it-alls’? One might feel the urge to compete with them, but in reality you can’t compete with know-it-alls, as they will just up the competition. Mostly, the know-it-alls are unsure of their status in a group and are trying to establish their position. So instead of competing, try to make them comfortable in the environment and they will relax the know-it-all behavior.

Know-it-alls don’t necessarily have to be newbies, some become know-it-alls because of their success. These people are harder to deal with, particularly if they are one’s superiors. They believe that because of their accolades they really do know it all. And because of their success, they are entitled to tell others how to do things, down to the smallest detail. Here’s how to work with a know-it-all, no matter where he/she is in the company hierarchy.

If you are managing or mentoring a know-it-all. As a mentor one has an obligation to give feedback. So, let them know that their attitude is having a negative effect on their career. Be sure to keep the feedback specific to something you have observed, to keep it credible.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report, but a colleague. It’s up to you to decide whether to say something at all. Consider the relationship / equation you share: If you are friendly and comfortable with each other, it may make sense to have the conversation. Start by asking permission: “Can I talk to you about something?” This helps get the conversation started in the right vein. Then talk about your direct observations, putting an emphasis on your colleague’s expertise and the consequences of flaunting it. It’s not a good idea to try this with a colleague you don’t know well or don’t have a good relationship with. It could easily be seen as acting like a know-it-all yourself. Wait until you have established a relationship of trust, or try some of the techniques for working with a know-it-all boss as given below.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report or a colleague, but your boss. Tread carefully. Here are a few broad rules to keep in mind if you find yourself in this worst-case scenario:

  • If the issue doesn’t really matter, just leave it alone. Letting know-it-alls go on and on may be frustrating and annoying, but save your strength for when you may really need it.
  • If the know-it-all is wrong, and it’s absolutely important to persuade them to consider another opinion, you have to figure out how to drive a small wedge between them and their beliefs. Try these techniques:
    • Ask “Have you ever…?”This question prompts the know-it-all to bring up a successful experience on the other side of the issue. Asking “what if” can also get know-it-alls to see things differently.
    • Delay for data. One can say, “That sounds like a good decision, but let me confirm that. Let’s meet next week, and in the meantime I’ll collect some data on ….”
    • Look for the risk.Here, one may say, “There are some real risks. We want to be sure our products don’t have a major defect in them caused by this vendor. We may be liable. How about I check with our attorneys and risk management?”
  • If you are successful at convincing a know-it-all boss, make sure you give themFor example, “A senior wanted me to check with the legal team about the risks of this contract, and we decided…” Don’t eliminate your role in the situation, but be sure to attribute some part of the decision to the know-it-all as well.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes, that competing won’t change a know-it-all’s behaviour, but only make you look like a know-it-all yourself — whether the know-it-all is your direct report, colleague, or boss, never, never compete. Instead, by utilizing the aforementioned techniques one can deal with them effectively and work with them to get the best results possible.

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