The Know-It-All

Dealing with one, being one.

Posted Nov 29, 2019

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

She is a biotech executive and respected by most... and hated by most. She is brilliant, knowledgeable, hard-working, ethical and low-maintenance. How could she be widely reviled?

Proud of her ability and knowing that she is an important brain behind the company’s success, she has grown ever more confident: She dominates meetings, interrupting as she thinks beneficial, and overrules even modestly inferior suggestions. She does this for the patients’ benefit but most employees dread coming to meetings and leave with their tail between their legs. She understands that she pays a price for always showing her ability but she wants her company to save as many lives as possible that she is willing to be feared, even hated.

But she may well pay a big price. We like to think that we judge people on the merits but often we won't if it hurts our self-esteem. And when employees' self-esteem is threatened, they may sabotage the know-it-all, for example, look for the inevitable times that even a brilliant person is wrong, or tell higher-ups that s/he's not a team player and destroys morale. Being a know-it-all has caused many a brilliant person to lose their job.

Her superior ability and drive for excellence no matter the price extends to her home life. Her husband, no slouch, is scared of her. He’s been reduced to agreeing to almost everything she says and asks for. Her kids do the opposite; they rebel. They know they’ll never be as smart, driven, or low-maintenance as their mother, so they opt not to try. They goof off in school, hang out with bad kids, and know that even their mother can’t enduringly force them into good behavior. They enjoy frequently taunting her, saying “I HATE you, mother!" and even give her the finger.

If you're dealing with a know-it-all

You’d probably understand and even appreciate the gifted athlete or musician wanting to perform as much as possible. Well, it’s wise to do the same with the know-it-all, to allow and even praise their relentless desire and ability to be right. That’s difficult for us because most of us care more that we’re good thinkers and problem solvers than if we're good musicians or athletes.

It may help to consider that most know-it-alls aren't mainly trying to show off nor be egotistical. Like talented athletes or musicians, indeed like all of us, they just want to use their best abilities as much as possible, especially if they feel it will make a difference. Lest you be the egotistical one, try to judge know-it-alls on their intentions and accomplishments, not on whether their superiority illuminates your inferiority. Keep your ego out of it.

If you're a know-it-all

It's best to put yourself in work and personal environments with your peers, where they're as bright and knowledgeable as you are or at least are secure enough to not try to destroy you for your excellence.

And if you are in a workplace filled with lesser lights, remember that you pay a price each time you show that your idea is better. Most people claim to want to hire and otherwise be around superior people but, in practice, dislike being made to feel inferior. You will hurt and demotivate people with each display of your know-it-allness. And you cause the aforementioned risk to your own career.

Of course, present your good ideas when it will make a significant difference, but when doing so, try to couch it in mollifying modesty, for example, “I’m wondering if we could solve the problem this way. What do you think?” And when you believe your idea is only modestly better, it may be wise to let the other person’s idea hold sway. That’s analogous to the wise manager knowing that while s/he may do the work better than the supervisees would, it’s wise to delegate a lot, except for tasks that you’d do much better or faster.

The takeaway

Most know-it-alls enhance your work and personal life. They may not know it all but they more often have better ideas. We can benefit from them if we don’t try to tamp them down into mediocrity.

I read this aloud on YouTube.