3 Ways to Lead a Know-It-All

You don’t wonder what a know-it-all thinks even though a little mystery would be nice.

Know-it-alls close their minds and open their mouths.

A know-it-all:

  1. Knows how to belittle you.
  2. Defends their opinion with emotion, not research.
  3. Increases volume when confronted.
  4. Expects compliance.
  5. Rejects other perspectives without consideration.
  6. Irritates and drains competent team members.
  7. Coerces timid people.
know-it-alls close their minds and open their mouths. Image of a goat with its tongue stuck out.

3 ways to lead a know-it-all:

#1. Ask questions:

  1. How did you come to that conclusion?
  2. What makes you say that?
  3. How has that worked in the past?
  4. What could go wrong if we do that?
  5. What are other ways to look at this?
  6. What resistance will come up if we go with your suggestion?
  7. How will this help the people we are serving? (In the short-term. In the long-term.)
  8. Ask, “And what else would you suggest?”
  9. Say, “If you were the customer, what questions would you be asking?”
  10. How does your suggestion fulfill our mission? (Know-it-alls tend to think in short-term solutions.)

#2. Determine if it matters to you:

If it doesn’t matter to you, let them talk. Excuse yourself or avoid them.

#3. Lead the conversation:

After someone offers input, ask a closed-minded person to summarize their position.

Lower their brilliant idea to a good suggestion. “Thanks for your suggestion. What other ideas do you have?”

Set expectations. “I’m gathering several suggestions before making a decision. I’ll keep your suggestion in mind.”

Cut them off before they speak. Suppose Bob is a blabbering windbag. Begin team conversations with a person’s name. “Mary, what suggestions do you have?”

Don’t let windbags believe their suggestions are decisions.

Don't let windbags believe their suggestions are decisions. Image of a person with an open mouth.


  1. Some intellectual gasbags respect confidence. “Thanks for your suggestion. That’s not going to happen. I’m open to other ideas.”
  2. Don’t allow ego to control response. Trying to put a fathead in their place is self-defeating.

What suggestions do you have for leading know-it-alls?

A note to readers:

This post is the continuation of “5 people who drive leaders nuts.”

  1. Know-it-all owls.
  2. Get-it-done squirrels.
  3. Cautious possums.
  4. Quiet sheep.
  5. Social butterflies.

10 Marks of Learn-it-all Leaders

How to Deal with a Know-It-All at Work