How to Handle an Office Know-It-All

Focus on minimal contact with maximum purpose.

Posted Nov 10, 2019

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Know-it-alls get that title because they are usually right. They are smart and do their homework, and they are happy to flaunt their wisdom in front of anyone who will listen. They may act with an air of superiority that can make others feel incredibly angry and uncomfortable. Most do not enjoy hanging around an office know-it-all. Still, when we share office space with this individual, it is impossible and impractical to avoid him or her.

If you love your job but can’t stand dealing with a know-it-all colleague, it may be best to just interact with this person as minimally as possible. Take the emotion out of the workplace situation. Recognize that you would not be friends with this person outside of the workplace. Your goal is not to confide in one another or to spend lunches together. Rather, your goal is to communicate effectively and to collaborate, as needed, on team projects so that you can get your job done. Focus on minimal contact with maximum purpose.

  • Listen carefully to formulate good questions. Don’t interrupt with counterarguments, but with strong, solid questions. Ask, for example, how this compares, what results have been reported, over what period of time, or what resources are required.

Maintain a positive working relationship by giving the know-it-all credit for what he knows. Compliment him when he is right. Don’t be afraid, however, to voice an opposing opinion. When you share a differing position, be courteous. Acknowledge the know-it-all’s perspective and share your thoughts respectfully. Support your points with research or with clear examples from experience. Be matter-of-fact in your approach. Avoid any personal attacks, because that will just backfire, and you will gain a know-it-all enemy. Do not focus on challenging the person. Rather, focus on providing an alternative view or perspective on the topic at hand.

  • Do your homework. Verify the information. If you think the know-it-all is wrong, present contradictory data in a matter-of-fact way. Don’t directly challenge their expertise, but suggest another way to view the situation.

Finally, remember that we can learn from any relationship. When the know-it-all really tests your patience, strive to remain calm and collected. Remind yourself that being patient helps you, too. Interestingly, when we force ourselves to pause in times of frustration and to think before we react, we can often approach the situation with a clearer, more leveled head. Set the bar for professionalism in your office. You may be surprised when other colleagues follow suit.

Tip: Know-it-alls are bright and may often be correct. On those occasions when they are wrong, remember that they consider any opposition to be a personal affront. The only way to quiet them is to offer them a gracious way to save face.

Copyright© 2019 Amy Cooper Hakim