The Knowledge Curse
Knowing a little about a lot, and talking all the time, can tire others.
Posted Feb 05, 2017
There is a difference in your life and work from being assertive with your opinions, ideas, and even your personality, or being aggressive with it. The first requires finesse; the second can bother people. Between the dozens of social media sites, blogs, and video postings, people around the planet today have so many ways to express themselves. Sometimes, enough is enough. Do more words and more opinions and more e-noise make things easier to understand or harder? When did “less is more” turn into “make more from less”?
Perhaps it’s time to modify what your mom or grandma probably said so many years ago, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” into “If you can’t add to the success of the conversation, and support the other person’s point of view, don’t say anything at all.” In other words, allow the other person to improve the discussion or zip it. When it comes to talking – kind of like the First Amendment says – just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
In between flights at an airport restaurant, I recently watched two middle-aged businessmen sitting at a table near me. Space limitations being what they were, I heard every word of a one-sided conversation. One guy nodded politely while the other dominated the entire discussion. The nodding guy managed to get in a few “uh huhs” and make one or two small points, but his colleague just kept right on talking and talking. When Mr. Chatterbox got up to use the bathroom, I had to suppress the urge to ask the other guy - whose ears were probably bleeding at that point – if his pal was always that way, and if so did he ever get frustrated that he couldn’t get a word in?
It was clear both men were working on some kind of aerospace defense-related project. It was evident both were smart, experienced people. It was also obvious one guy had the Knowledge Curse. This can be defined as, “I know a little or a lot about a lot of things, and I’m going to prove it to you. My approach will be to dominate the conversation with my brain dump. Your job will be to sit there and agree with me. If you try to give me your point of view, rather than agreeing, asking, or even considering your perspective, I’ll just talk over you harder.”
Conversational zeal is fun when people are excited about certain events in their lives. We all get excited about stuff – good and bad – that happens to us, and we want to share what happened and why with friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones. But too much of this on a repeat basis is more than tedious; it’s selfish. People cursed with the Knowledge Curse must not stop to consider that perhaps, just perhaps (to quote a bit of Dr. Seuss in his Grinch book), the person across from them knows as much or even more than they do about the same subject. They either don’t care or forget to ask a simple and inclusive phrase: “So what do you think?”
Newsflash: We shouldn’t all get to talk, all the time. Listen more and listen completely. There is no downside to listening more and talking less. Suppress your urge to continue. This takes more self-awareness than some people have. Stop biting off the end of other people’s sentences.
Ask yourself, “Am I dominating this conversation? Am I saying too much? Am I offering advice that isn’t wanted or necessary? Am I boring the other person or the group? Do people change the subject or reach for their cell phones when I go on and on? Am I telling them how to make an IPhone when they simply asked me the time?”
If you’re trapped in a one-way conversation with someone afflicted with the Knowledge Curse, consider these approaches:
Interrupt more forcefully. They won’t see it as rude, because they already do it too.
Redirect the conversation regularly and repeatedly, back over to subjects you want to talk about. Get them off their current broken record and over to something you want to discuss with them.
Throw in the conversational towel. If you’ve reached the point where it’s too much. Go about your business at the table. Check your phone, nod your head occasionally, say, “Right” or “Uh huh” and enjoy your meal in self-silence. They won’t notice or care, since they’ll still keep talking no matter what you do.
Re-train them. It takes time and effort to re-configure Knowledge Curse carriers, but it can be done, if you have enough tough love to give. Each time they interrupt, say, “Wait. I’m not finished making my point” and make it. Say, “Hold on. I heard your perspective, now let me give you mine.” Sometimes, you have to fight conversational fire with conversational fire.
Call them on this behavior – boldly or gently, and then start a campaign of wrapping it up each time it becomes too much. If you start shortening your conversations with these people and breaking contact (or not taking their calls or responding to their requests for meetings or meals), maybe, just maybe they’ll start to get the hint that you need more air time. You can say, “I know you have strong feelings or a lot of information about certain topics. However, I need to feel like I’m an equal part of our conversations.”
Comedian Brian Regan does a great bit about how much fun it would be to be at a party as one of the original 12 Apollo lunar astronauts, and tell some Me-Me-Me Know-It-All who is spouting about his accomplishments, “I walked on the moon.” That would certainly shut that guy right up.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, CTM, is a keynote speaker, author, and trainer. He is board certified in HR, security, coaching, and threat management. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessment, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and criminal justice subjects. He c
an be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht