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.