Do you have a coworker who thinks he knows everything? He believes he’s the go-to person; the one with the special connections and authority. He acts as though he’s been everywhere and has experienced everything. If there's a problem, he has the solution; if there's a question, he has the answer. He isn't open to new ideas or collaborating—and he has strong opinions, which he delivers in an obnoxious manner. 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, says Nancy Collamer, a career coach and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.
“They tend to monopolize conversations, dismiss input from others and make decisions without first considering all the facts,” she says. “A ‘my way or the highway’ attitude often leads to unhappy coworkers, disgruntled clients, and an unhappy work environment.”
Andrew G. Rosen, founder, and editor of career advice blog Jobacle.com, says it can be 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 swayed.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, president of Humor at Work, and author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank (Dec. 2013), agrees. “Know-it-alls can be extremely frustrating to work with for a number of reasons,” he says. “One, they tend to speak more than they listen, so people 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 know an 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.”
Credit: Vital Smarts
Here are eight tips for dealing with a know-it-all coworker:
1. Be empathetic
This coworker may irritate you—but remember that his or her know-it-all attitude is probably stemming from a confidence issue or some deeper personal issue, Rosen says. “Rather than get angry, allow yourself to be empathetic.”
2. 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,” Collamer says. “Deflect their comments with a simple, ‘Thanks for that suggestion’ instead of engaging them in an ongoing conversation.”
3. Lead by example
“A boss or manager, especially, needs to model the behavior that in many circumstances it’s not only okay to not know everything, it’s encouraged,” Kerr says. “Saying ‘I don’t know, but let’s find some answers or get some great ideas’ demonstrates that you are flexible and open to other opinions. Saying ‘I don’t know,’ can also build trust by demonstrating openness, vulnerability, and honesty.”
4. 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, Kerr says. “Double check your sources and verify the facts. The more armed you are with knowledge, the less chance the know-it-all has to interject or one up you.”
When in meetings, stick to an agenda (passed around ahead of time) that provides a set amount of time for each person to speak, Collamer adds. “Come prepared with facts and statistics in writing, so in the event ‘Mr. Know-it-all’ doesn't let you get a word in edgewise, you have something in writing to share with the team. The better prepared you are, the less room there will be for the know-it-all to commandeer the discussion.”
5. Keep your sense of humor
Kerr says know-it-alls can be highly defensive, and at times aggressive; the last thing you want to do is to make them feel backed into a corner.
“Although it’s highly tempting to use sarcasm with a know-it-all, this will undoubtedly backfire. Instead, take a deep breath, smile and do your best Johnny Carson impersonation, ‘I did not know that. That is weird, wild stuff.’ Laugh it off by reminding yourself that often their behavior is harmless and they don’t really mean anything by it. A friendly, ‘Okay, I want you on my Trivial Pursuit team’ can disarm a potentially tense situation.”
6. Ask probing questions
Be respectful, but ask detailed question to peel back the layers of a know-it-all’s stance, Kerr suggests. “Ask why they believe something to be true or where they found their sources,” he says. “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.”
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, concurs. She says you shouldn't be afraid to confront the know-it-all coworker and question further where their expertise or authority is coming from.
7. Take the person aside and offer constructive feedback on their behavior
“Recognize that it's possible that Ms. Know-it-all may be clueless about the impact of her behavior on others,” Collamer says. “If you suspect that's the case, consider gently pointing this out during a private discussion away from the office.”
Kerr adds: “Although this can be tricky, if you do it in a respectful way it can help. Keep in mind that many know-it-alls may be highly insecure, so stroke their ego, flatter them on their range of knowledge, but caution them as to how their communication style may be coming across to other people.” Remind them how important it is for less confident people than themselves to be able to speak up.
8. Avoid involving your boss unless the know-it-all is truly threatening your success
“If that becomes necessary, maintain a positive tone and instead of complaining about the person, focus on what you're willing to do to make sure the work is done well,” says Isa Adney, author of How to Get a Job Without a Resume and the blog firstjoboutofcollege.com.
Collamer agrees. “If the situation really becomes unbearable, talk it over with your boss and let him or her know how the know-it-all's behavior is impacting the team and work environment.”
By Jacquelyn Smith
This article first appeared in Forbes.