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.

Reality …

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?