How to work with a know-it-all
Extreme collabohaters: the know-it-all
Collabohaters, like collaborators, come in all shapes and sizes. Some collabohaters are hostile to the very notion of collaboration, but others are seemingly eager to collaborate, but then conduct themselves in such an unhelpful or inefficient manner that you feel yourself turning into a collabohater.
The know-it-all moves comfortably between both spheres. Some know-it-alls consider themselves so far removed from the rabble that they’d prefer to just do everything themselves, knowing that other fingerprints will only distort their masterpieces. Others embrace the new era of flattened hierarchies and cross-departmental teamwork because it gives them myriad opportunities to insert themselves as The Expert of Everything.
They imagine themselves as the great Gandalf. Coworkers often see them more like Winnie-the-Pooh, greedily grabbing and slobbering on as many honeypots as possible.
So what can you do about it?
Let it go, let it go
First of all, if your in-house know-it-all isn’t actually impacting the way you’re working together—if it’s more a case of someone correcting you every time you talk about deflated footballs, area restaurants and string theory—try to obey the time-honored collaborative advice to pick your battles.
In other scenarios, letting go may be a mistake. So…
Hold up a mirror
Maybe it’s different for hyper-transparent companies that share everything, but I suspect most of us are unaware, to some degree, of how we’re perceived by our coworkers. Know-it-alls tend to have a bullying streak, and managers can and should address this sort of corrosive behavior. Even between peers in a collaborative workplace, this is an important conversation to be able to have. Don’t just point fingers or put the know-it-all on the defensive; know-it-alls, after all, are very good at talking themselves out of a corner. Instead, explain the impact of the perceived behavior, and the potential benefits of trying a different approach.
“Tell him that if he gives others a chance to share, they’ll be more likely to listen to him when he has something to say.” That’s advice from a parenting website, but it applies here, too.
And, of course, if you’re a manager (or parent), leading by example is always a good idea, too.
Identify and acknowledge their strengths
How much does your know-it-all actually, y’know, know? One annoying thing about these specific collabohaters is that, even if they’re overestimating the breadth of their own talents and experiences, they often do have value and expertise to share. You don’t want to confine people to written job descriptions just because it’s kinda annoying when they branch out.
Validation is a powerful tool. Know-it-alls are often motivated by fact (or fear) that they don’t actually know everything. Sometimes they fear that they know nothing and, if not for their huffing and puffing, someone will catch on or call their bluff. By praising them when appropriate, but refusing to humor them when they start pontificating about discussions and decisions outside of their expertise, you will help reinforce a view that may be different than the dreams of know-it-alls, but certainly beats their worst case scenarios.
You’re a valued member of the team and we need you. And sometimes we need you to stick a cork in it.
“What is most important in these interactions is to remember that we do not have to see the other person as they want to be seen; and we do not have to cater to that need unless we want to,” says F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.
Change how you handle company meetings
Know-it-alls are meeting hijackers, and while you don’t want to get into a game of changing company policies in response to individual personality quirks, it’s a good idea to think about smarter ways to hold meetings regardless of whether you have collabohating gorillas in your midst.
If you’re committing to a more collaborative culture, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that your meetings are actually productive and team-friendly. Differences of opinion should be encouraged—and bulldozing behavior (talking over one another, discouraging dissent because “I’m the expert”) should be addressed when it arises.
Fight fire with fire
If your content marketing director is super-opinionated about your product roadmap, your IT infrastructure and your pricing matrix, make sure that you’re taking an equally progressive approach to your content marketing strategy, and leveraging the expertise of your product and IT teams to develop and give feedback on your campaigns.
Bludgeon them with evidence
I know, I know. You’ve lost faith in evidence, because evidence has no effect on your insane conspiracy theorist cousin on Facebook, but hopefully it will hold more influence in the workplace. If you’re having a tussle over whether you can assign project roles in Central Desktop (note: yes, you can) or whether so-and-so ever looked at the creative brief you sent them, you can demonstrably prove these things.
It’s always best to come into a conversation armed with your evidence, but don’t be afraid to follow up after the fact (try to keep the victory dancing to a minimum, though).
If you a tried-and-true tactic for dealing with know-it-alls, we’d love to hear about it!