“Let me tell you how to fix it.” This is the perspective of a person who is demonstrating behavior that can be labeled “know it all.” The “know it all” demonstrates through this behavior and his or her comments that he or she knows what is best for the situation, the organization, and you. The “know it all” is very willing, and doesn’t even need to be asked, to share her or his opinion about the situation. If you listen closely to a “know it all” he or she have more experience than anyone involved and have experienced every possible situation that comes up.
If you have ever worked with a “know it all,” you know how difficult it is to get the individual to trust that you or anyone else involved has any credibility. She or he doesn’t have time to work with others. The “know it all’s” challenge or goal is to get more done and the way to do that is to tell everyone how to do it. After all, the “know it all” is the expert.
The result is that it is very difficult to work with this behavior. It becomes a stressful relationship, one that most people would like to avoid, if at all possible. However, this does not make for an effective relationship, group, or organization. More time is spent trying to work around the “know it all” than working with the behavior to resolve it. Of course the outcome of this experience is to be on the defense when around the “know it all” and not trust the person. And, even more destructive, is to begin to doubt your own ideas, knowledge, and expertise. You begin to distrust yourself.
How, then can we begin to work with this behavior to achieve a task and build a trusting work environment? Let me suggest that you turn to the work of Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner in their book; Dealing With People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst.
The first step is to better understand the motivation behind the behavior. Without this understanding it is really easy to focus on the “know it all” as a “bad person” instead of a person demonstrating a difficult behavior. Therefore, once you understand the motivation behind the behavior and that it is probably unconscious behavior for the individual it is a little easier to focus on the behavior and not the person.
The “know it all” is primarily motivated in life to get as much done as possible in the shortest amount of time. The intent is to accomplish as much as possible so that the “know it all” can move on to the next task at hand. And when the “know it all” is met with any resistance or any behavior that is seen as a barrier to achieving the task that person is labeled as resistant. For the “know it all” the only way to deal with barriers and resistance is to become more controlling and demanding that things be done the way he or she wants them done. This is the fastest, most efficient means to accomplishing the task so that the “know it all” can move forward with yet another task. By being in control the “know it all” can manage the outcome as he or she intended and then move on to the next project.
The “know it all” and the motivation “to get it done” are very easy to identify. The “know it all” will not want to communicate about the situation. The communications with the “know it all” will be short, to the point, and only concerned about the “facts.” If the conversation begins to get into the complications or the politics or the relationships of the situation, the “know it all” will work even harder to get control of the things and force people to do it the “right way.”
When confronted with this “know it all” behavior you must be very careful not to fall into the trap of becoming a “know it all” yourself. This will only result in an on-going debate (one that you may not be able to win because the “know it all” has probably studied the situation very thoroughly) and lead to the resentment of the person. When this happens there can be no trust on which to build a working relationship.
The goal when working with the “know it all” is to get him or her to open his or her mind to new information or new ideas. This requires you to be prepared and know your situation as best you can. Do your homework. And think through as many of the objections as possible before hand.
When working with the “know it all” listen carefully to what she or he is suggesting. Be prepared to use what she or he is suggesting when providing feedback of your understanding of the information. Demonstrate that you heard the “know it all.” Be prepared to do this a lot with the “know it all.” And when providing this feedback and understanding make certain that you are respectful and sincere in your approach. And don’t take a lot of time to do this.
If you are successful in your approach, the “know it all” will be willing to hear your perspective because you have demonstrated that you heard and understood his or her perspective. Now it is possible to share your perspective. When doing so make certain your ideas either address the concerns of the “know it all” or combine the “know it all” ideas into your ideas.
When presenting your ideas make certain your language takes advantage of the fact that the “know it all” has now lowered the defenses. Use softening words that build a sense of trust like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “I was just wondering” or “what would happen if we.” Make certain you include the “know it all” in the description. Use “we” or “us.” You want to avoid appearing as the enemy and that your concerns are similar to the concerns of the “know it all.” This leads to ownership and, therefore, enhancement of trust.
Also be ready to use questions instead of statements. This will allow the “know it all” to share her or his knowledge or cause her or him to realize there is more to know.
Also be willing to turn the “know it all” into a mentor for others in the situation. This way the “know it all” can share his or her knowledge while feeling like he or she is accomplishing the task. Again the ultimate outcome is trust enhancement and a more constructive working relationship.
In the future I will be examining a variety of difficult behaviors and exploring how to enhance the trust needed to build an effective working relationship.
Until next time, be prepared to straightforwardly address the “know it all” behavior. Enjoy the holidays and be safe in your travels.