When You’re the Know-it-all at Work

What do you do if you’re afraid that you’re coming off as a condescending know-it-all at work? Should you try to act “dumber”? Karla Miller who runs @Work Advice at The Washington Post says know-it-alls shouldn’t act dumber—they should be “strategically generous”:

They ask questions instead of spitting out answers: What do you think? Does anyone have a different idea? What if we tried this instead?

They recognize that everyone has a contribution: Great point, and I’d like to build on that by adding … Let me defer to Eloise on that topic.

They dissent politely: I see where you’re coming from, but I think …

They acknowledge vulnerabilities: I sometimes struggle with expressing myself tactfully.

They apologize as needed: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be brusque.

They laugh at themselves: Whoops, I had a Sheldon Cooper moment there. Bazinga!

At a previous job, someone who built a reputation for being a know-it-all and interrupting colleagues at work was simply told, “Stop interrupting people while they’re in the middle of talking—it’s rude.” He apologized, and consciously made an effort to stop himself from correcting people while they were talking. It’s the thought that counts.

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5 Comments / Post A Comment

Meaghano (#529)

Ha. I certainly had a lot of opinions and a lot to CONTRIBUTE at work, but I think the difference between being someone who speaks their mind and shares their thoughts and a know-it-all is general self-awareness? Empathy? Social skills? Like if you have to list out how to be a tolerable person, you’re in trouble.

samburger (#5,489)

@Meaghano I work with a person who needs desperately to list out how to be a tolerable person! It’s a thing!

milena (#3,288)

Some of those suggestions are fine by me, but I generally get annoyed at the piggybackers and the “I totally get what you mean, but my way is better” folks. In trying to sound “nice”, they come off even worse!

There are times when I come into a conversation thinking my way is the best way, and I was taught at work to “come from curious”. That means, if someone disagrees with my way, instead of formulating a rebuttal, I ask a question — “can you explain what part of my method you consider inefficient?” etc. Sometimes you’ll realize that neither of you had come up with the best method, and it took 2 minds to come up with the best idea!

@fo (#839)

@milena “can you explain what part of my method you consider inefficient?”

*THAT* can be just as problematic.

FreeRangeMenses (#6,264)

*Shhh* My grad school classmates called me Hermione. I’m a militant non-interrupter, though.

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