Dealing with know-it-alls
One day over coffee …
Some time back, a high-potential leader asked if I saw anything in him that might hold him back. I said, “Yes,” and pointed out a problem area.
Without hesitation, he began telling me, in the nicest way, I was wrong. If you didn’t know, know-it-alls can be nice. But, in the end, He was right and I was wrong.
I’ve been wrong many times. However, when I told him he didn’t listen well, he proceeded to explain that he did listen well and why I was wrong.
Good listeners say things like, “What do you see in me that suggests I’m not a good listener.” His self-justifying, “I am right response,” proved he wasn’t a good listener.
A choice …
After someone tells you you’re wrong, you have a choice. Explain how you are right or change the subject. I changed the subject. Conversations designed to prove a know-it-all doesn’t know it all frequently end badly. Typically, they don’t work.
If you must …
If you can’t let the problem go, explain it in behavioral terms and get acknowledgement that there is a problem. Ask, “Do you agree that I see a problem?” Follow up with, “What do you think I see?” Avoid “why” questions.
In some ways and at some times, we all know too much. For example, I asked Mike Myatt for his input and he told me something I didn’t expect or want to hear. I felt my internal know-it-all rising up. When that happens it’s best to beat it down and listen. Someone else could be right.
(This post doesn’t focus on employees that require correction.)
How can leaders successfully point out weaknesses in others?
How do you deal with your own internal know-it-all?
I think when leaders point out weakness it is helpful to do it as part of a conversation about success. I think that it helps the other person to feel that the leader has the best interest of the employee or mentee at heart. It makes what could be a negative discussion about weakness into a positive discussion about changes that could lead to the next level of success.
I’m so glad you stopped in to share a positive comment. It’s very easy to focus on negatives. I think we do it all the time. A positive context and a positive work culture goes miles to opening the door to negative feedback.
Best to you,
I think leaders can successfully point out weaknesses in others by appreciating their strengths first and opening up discussion. You need to make conversation lively and encouraging. The need is also to ask about the secret and source of his strengths. When he is opened up and discusses about his achievement, you can pitch up by saying, you can be even more powerful and achieve more than whatever you have achieved if you can improve, eliminate, reduce or get off of some weaknesses. And again focussing on his strenghts. It means you have to appreciate, pointout and again appreciate his strengths, And it is called sandwitch technique. The whole assumption behind this philosophy is not to let down others with their weaknesses. Instead, otherrs should feel that people do not notice or observe their weaknesses. But he should be encouraged to be better than now.
I deal with my own internal know it all by being humble to listen to people whom I interact with. I take their feeback in positive manner and put myself in their position and them compare. I try not to repeat same mistakes, At the same time, it is possbile when you are resilient, connected and sensitive to others and yourself.
I’ve never been a big fan of the feedback sandwich because, in my opinion, I think it devalues positive feedback. In other words, people ignore all the good things we say while they wait for the negative stuff.
However, in the context of mentoring/coaching I can see the value of the feedback sandwich. It maintains a positive context for change.
As always, thank you for sharing your insights.
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I used to question sandwitch feedback but now it is very clear that it devalues the positive feedback. I absolutely agree to your point. I also ffeel that sometimes it looks like flattering or empty feedback. So, to give positive feedback, one should be straightforward and honest.
I think this was discussed on a comment of a previous post, but it applies here. Leaders need to get used to the idea it’s not always a bad thing to hurt people. Hurting someone is vastly different than harming them.
Hurting. Think of your last visit to the dentist. Was it pleasant? Did the repair work or cleaning make you feel uncomfortable? Of course it did. But think of the alternative. If dentists never wanted to hurt anybody, we’d all be in a world of hurt!
Harming. This includes degrading, belittling, arguing with, and attacking the person you are leading. This is a clear no-no in leadership, regardless of how “know-it-all” the other person is.
Also, a leader can build their team by spotting know-it-alls in teh interview session. Ask questions that draw out whether they a) take responsibility for where they are today; or b) blame others for what has happened to them.
The blamers are know-it-alls. Don’t hire them.
Your comments really strike me today Scott. I appreciate them.
Hurting vs. harming is a great description for parenthood as well.
Absolutely. Everyday we are faced with opportunities to hurt, harm, or encourage others – family, co-workers, strangers,…
Two thumbs up from me to Scott as well. And I am right about that. Not taking it back.
Love the statement: “Blamers are know-it-alls” Great insight.
Would you say Scott, the key may be in the intent?
As a leader, if I’m not intent on growing the people I lead, what I say or do has the potential to harm (consciously or not). But if I have their best interest in mind, I will either be encouraging to them or hurting them (in a good way).
Hope that speaks into your question.
Good morning Dan. How do we deal with the know it all folks? Well the short answer is gingerly. Most people that have that particular attitude I find are usually very insecure and sometimes arrogant. Confident, activated leaders as I like to call them don’t usually have qualms about getting feedback. Even when they don’t necessarily agree with the assessment they are still grateful for receiving it and not infrequently will engage in a dialogue exploring the reasons for the perception. The insecure leader will often argue, provide rebuttals, and occasionally take the opportunity to slash back some evaluations of their own your way leading to an unproductive and painful encounter. How do we approach these individuals tends to need a lot of customization. I have found that investing the time to know as much as I can about the personal traits, values, and idiosyncracies will provide an entry way and the right approach to attempt starting the dialogue. I will say that if even after doing that piece of homework I find reluctance from the person to engage I will then disengage as politely and quickly as possible to avoid further repercussions and resort perhaps to finding other individuals who may willing to take a stab at it. As the saying goes some of the people can be wrong some of the time but all of the people cannot be wrong all of the time. Feedback from multiple different parties may dent the shell of arrogance and insecurity enough to create the beginning of self awareness. Knowing there is a problem and accepting it will always need to be first couched by looking in the mirror and saying “yep that is me!” Over time if the culture of the organization is one where there is the concept of safe space people that don’t buy in will usually buy out and that ends up being a good thing for everyone concerned. Cheers, Al
That’s Al, tap dancing in a minefield again! Great points sir. You really do have to ‘customize’ the feedback. Presentation, presentation, presentation.
It may be a case of only being able to say, “I am always working on improving my skills, interactions and presentations because I believe it improves where we work. If you ever have any feedback, I would really appreciate hearing it…I need to hear it. (pause…awkward silence) And, in the same vein, if/when I do have some feedback/observations for you, whenever you are ever interested in hearing it, please let me know. Maybe we could talk about it over lunch?
Doc I like your suggestion and will give it a go. In another similar post if you remember my other approach is to start with ” I have a problem and I need your help.” That one has been successful for me most of the time getting my foot in the door but I will tell sometimes my foot literally gets caught and I have to pull hard to get it out! 🙂 Al
Thanks Al, little variations on a theme are always helpful, I try to keep adding them in myself…you did note that I used ‘vein’ with you in mind, lol.
One thing I love about your comments is the compassion you demonstrate. I’m glad you keep adding your insights.
Super idea: engage others in the process.
The people around us are worthy of the time and energy it may take to save them from themselves. I’m thankful others care enough for me to look me in the eye and hurt me w/o harming me (thanks Scott)
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Hey Dan I also like Scott’s comment “hurt me without harming me”. I could not agree with you more regarding the worth and value of the team members, leaders included. Like I read some where don’t worry so much about whether people are smart or not but look and find out what they are smart at! I forget to mention that for me personally there is never any such thing as negative feedback. That is an oxymoron in my mind. there has never been an instance where some kernel of growth was not ripe for the picking. 🙂 Al
I often use indirect approaches when it comes to addressing something like this. Avoiding you/blame statements, etc.. The mediator in me doesn’t like to make others feel skewered. I use reason and facts and if I have to use a direct approach, I rely on them a lot.
I tend to be way to direct. Sometimes I’ll run something by my wife who frequently lets me know if I say what I plan to say, I’ll unnecessarily hurt someone. I’m glad she’s in my life.
Best to you,
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I have to smile at your response Dan, because I often consult my husband when I need to be more direct, especially over email where messages can be mis-construed! He can be very blunt, yet he is also eloquent and knows how to be professional. Sometimes a single direct statement is the best message, especially when I occasionally have to deal with less palatable folks in a professional manner.
Yikes! I am too often a know it all, I’m afraid. However, that’s mostly at home–but isn’t home just another type of organization that requires effective leadership?
Dang, David, quit holding up that mirror…same here, ouch!
Comments about know-it-alls roll easily from my “pen” because I’m personally connected to the problem. And don’t challenge me on that! I know I’m right!
Thank you. Ouch.
Messages like this remind me of the grace I endeavor in my everyday work and personal relationships and how that same grace can be liberally applied to others.
A leader who has committed him/herself to pointing out a weakness in another would be wise to establish some groundwork first – develop a relationship with the individual, understand how that person works (i.e., don’t have this convo at Starbucks at 7 am if they are not a morning person) – and be prepared to have somewhat of a poker face to their initial (possibly defensive) reaction. Plan to revisit later.
As far as my internal know-it-all, I did a “self assessment” recently that I can’t locate to quote but I clearly remember it saying “people who supervise you should recognize that you want to be acknowledged for being right.” Uh oh. I think it has become easier to deal with my internal know it all as I have had more life experience. I have had enough experiences where my rightness was either disproven or just ceased to matter to know that very few things are worth alienating others for.
Great blog Dan. By asking Mike Myatt u ask a wise man. He will also tell u great truth. I consider u and him wise men with insightful things to share. Your ability to write daily amazes me. Keep it up and keep asking for advice. It will keep u from being a “know it all.”
Not stay on a ‘timing’ rant here, however, timing such feedback is very important. While your agenda may be to point someone’s ‘weaknesses’ (opportunities for growth) and perhaps check that off of your ‘to do’ list, sensitivity is important. Scott covered that very well.
Dan there may be a whole different thread on leaders who ask for help/opinions but don’t really want it, which sounds like your interaction.
Certainly the Columbo approach might work sometimes…seeking ‘just one more question’ clarification. Or even starting with a request for assistance..”I’m confused about an interaction/presentation that I heard from you, can you help me understand better?”
It does sound like part of the process is to shift perspectives and to do so in the kindest way possible.
Full disclosure: The hurting versus harming thing is from Dr. Henry Cloud. Just sayin’. 🙂
I loved the progression of the post to have each person look at their inner know-it-all since it is a defense mechanism that is quite common. Particularly, if the individual giving the criticism is not very adept at communicating criticism where it is not attacking. For me, I can remember many instances where the criticism may have been correct, but I focused on the reason of the criticism (e.g. it was done to boost another ego, power search, or self satisfaction). I learned to stop the automatic what or why they are doing it and focus on asking how I can use this to improve who I am and how I do things. I can not change another person as much as I can change and improve myself.
Dan, this was a really funny post. It has definitely happened to me as well. The most important thing to remember is we can never change someone else. Change starts from within.
Dan, this is great advise as so often we forget “After someone tells you you’re wrong, you have a choice. Explain how you are right or change the subject. “
Dan, If we are truly honest with ourselves, we all make mistakes and have many conflicts which can arouse dissatisfaction. Isn’t it better to thank the person for seeing the fault we have, so that we can get on with our lives and rectify our own weaknesses.
I guess, I must have been a Know-it-all on more than a couple of occasions: upon reflection, I found that I had been told I-do-not-know-anything, in the past, by either a person of the same demographics/position or on a similar matter as is under consideration, which made me adopt the Know-it-all stance on every occasion I behaved so. If one is interested in / has interest in engaging with a Know-it-all, one can try to know-them-all, and an enriching journey of exploration into human psyche may follow.
Nicely said… thanks for leaving your insights here.
In the world we live in, people have various opinions depending on the topic of concern. However, sometimes there are individuals that think their opinion is the only opinion and any other perspective does not take into place. Though sometimes it can be frustrating dealing with people who think they know it all, it’s also a great way to challenge not only yourself, but also the other individual. Some ways that I believe are to be helpful to cope with people who know it all is to remain calm and not let your high intense emotions get the best of you. Most of the time, people who think they know it all, like to provoke some sort of reaction out of you and a sense of frustration and anger. Though it’s nothing to be ashamed of in experiencing emotions, it is suggested that regulated and controlled emotions are best in situations like this. Another coping mechanism to deal with this issue is that though it may feel like the individual is attacking you in a personal matter, but it’s also a way that the individual is battling with their own feelings and internal issues. With that being said, setting boundaries should be implemented in cases like this to set power to your own personal opinion and voice, rather than it being all about the “person knowing it all” and their perspective. Often times, situations like this turn into high emotional debates and arguments, therefore, if it is possible it should be avoided. It can be avoided by just being respectful and not letting the other person’s perspective affect you and responding in a kind manner even if you don’t want to. This way nothing is up for further discussion. You asked who leaders can successful point out the weakness in others and it’s simply by recognizing the areas in which one is uncomfortable and struggle with in coping and speaking about. Often times, leaders can pinpoint this trait by going off one’s personality and work ethic skills and seeing what they lack in the most.