Managing employees with Know-It-All Syndrome

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“Those who always know what’s best are a universal pest” …. Piet Hein, a Danish Scientist

Do you have a coworker who thinks he knows everything? Chances are, you’ve never, ever heard him utter the words “I don’t know. Unfortunately, most employees encounter at least one know-it-all coworker or boss at some point in their career—and they’re not always the easiest people to work with.  Not only in the Corporate world, we often come across people in the society who carry the syndrome of Know-It-All.

To understand the traits of such people, I went to the GOOGLE (synonym of  know-it-all) and this is what I got on Wikipedia….. “A know-it-all or know-all is a person who constantly presents their input as though they were professionally trained, schooled or have firsthand insight into subjects when it is evident this is not the case. A know-it-all will quickly reject opinions, suggestions, thoughts and commentary from others as incorrect, nonsensical and disruptive”.

They tend to monopolize conversations, dismiss input from others and make decisions without first considering all the facts. It is extremely difficult to work with a know-it-all because they are generally poor listeners, often thinking about what they are going to say next rather than hear what you are saying. Their mindset makes it hard to get through to them that their idea or solution might not be the best one. They have often already formed an opinion and will not be influenced.

Know-it-alls can be extremely frustrating to work with for several reasons;

  • they tend to speak more than they listen, so employees can be left with the feeling that their opinions or ideas haven’t been given a proper hearing.
  • They can often be close-minded as well. Which means they can become a severe impediment to the creative process by blocking any idea other than their own.
  • They simply knowan idea either will or won’t work.
  • Some know-it-alls can come across as opinionated, aggressive, brusque and even loud–all traits that won’t win over a lot of people at the office–and in fact can be easily construed as bullying behavior.”

Here are few tips for dealing with a know-it-all employee-

  1. Don’t Get Annoyed with Them: Obvious, right? So why do you get annoyed? Sure, know-it-alls are annoying but there’s another way to deal with them. 
  1. Don’t Try To “School” Them: That is the biggest waste of time you can possibly think off; trying to share knowledge with a know-it-all. What’s the point? They already know it all! Maybe you’re trying to help them. But think about it; what are you even doing? They can’t be saved by anyone else other than themselves.
  1. Pick your battles: Dealing with a know-it-all can be exhausting and there are times when your best response is to ignore their ‘helpful’ hints as much as possible and simply comment with a smile, ‘Thanks for that suggestion’ instead of engaging them in an ongoing conversation.” 
  1. Ask probing questions:Be respectful but ask detailed question to peel back the layers of a know-it-all’s stance. Asking pointed questions on specific details can teach a know-it-all over time that they need to have their facts in order before speaking out.
  1. Be armed with your own facts: If you are delivering a presentation, selling an idea or heading into a meeting, be confident in your own facts. The more armed you are with knowledge, the less chance the know-it-all has to interject or one up you.”

Is this behavior non-correctable?

“Know-it-all”ism pops up in every area of our society. Some of this is due to access to information.As with any bad habit, the first step is to recognize there is a problem. Continuous and Constructive feedback on their behavior is one of the best remedies I can think of. Recognize that it’s possible that Know-it-all may be clueless about the impact of his behavior on others. If you suspect that’s the case, consider gently pointing this out during aninformal discussion.

Am I a Know-It-All?

Do a self-assessment to understand where you stand. Some probing questions which may help us to evaluate ourself;

  • Have you worked for countless organizations, so you absolutely know what everyone else is doing?
  • Do you have best practices that are set in stone because they always work, never ever fail, and bring with you everywhere you go?
  • Correct others often?
  • There is no conversation happening around you that you aren’t aware of!
  • You have a difficulty to digest that someone in office knows more than you do?
  • Own work station is always messy and keep telling others how to keep it clean

Microsoft’s CEO gave some brilliant career advice… “I was reading it not in the context of business or work culture, but in the context of my children’s education. The author describes the simple metaphor of kids at school. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and the other is a ‘learn-it-all,’ and the ‘learn-it-all’ always will do better than the other one even if the ‘know-it-all’ kid starts with much more innate capability.”

Going back to business: If that applies to boys and girls at school, I think it also applies to CEOs like me, and entire organizations, like Microsoft. “Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.”


Author– Dinesh Dhir has almost 20 years experience in Human Resources; currently he is associated with Bhartiya Group as AVP & Head – Group HR Operations. Dinesh did MSW from Sardar Patel University in 1999 and started his career from Mufatlal Industries as Management Trainee and afterwards also served the companies like Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Mahindra & Mahindra, Dukes India and Perfetti Van Melle.

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