"Roberto, these coaching skills are great, but what if you are dealing with an abrasive person that acts like a know-it-all?"
A participant asked me that question a few weeks ago during a workshop I delivered on being a coach leader.
We had an exciting conversation, and I shared points from a video I created last year.
We've all encountered a know-it-all once in our lives. Or maybe you've been in that role on a few occasions. I know I slipped into that mode in the past.
We call these people "Brilliant Jerks" or "The-Ones-Who-Know-Everything," while you roll your eyes when referring to them in a particular conversation.
You can quickly identify them: they always want to prove how smart or knowledgeable they are, and they take every opportunity to let people see that they already know something, that they know more, or have a better solution. Well, at least, that's what they believe.
And they are never wrong. Can you even imagine that? A know-it-all who says, "I'm wrong?" Hmm, I wonder if their ego would even let them say that.
So let's see how we can deal with that type of behavior and who this person is.
It could be a coworker who thinks he is the go-to person, the one with the unique connections and authority. She could be one who acts as though she's been everywhere and has experienced everything. If there's a problem, they have the solution; if there's a question, they have the answer.
Often, these people are poor listeners. They can't wait to respond and already think about what to say next rather than being interested in your perspective. They can have a closed mindset and a hard time realizing that their solutions or ideas might not be the best ones. And you bite your tongue when they start telling you what you already know.
Is it confidence or a lack of it? Well, get this, it has been well documented that when you show know-it-all behavior, It's a sign of insecurity. Oops!
As annoying as they can be if you keep this first point in mind, rather than getting irritated, be empathic and remember that this attitude is probably stemming from a lack of confidence or deeper personal issues.
The truth is, people with high self-esteem don't show off. They don't need to display all their knowledge to feel recognized and validated.
Keeping that in mind, it would make sense to reassure them of their worth by praising them for who they are, so they won't need to display that behavior again. Hoping this person has a minimum of self-awareness, of course.
But first, know that you're not going to change his or her behavior toward others completely. Your goal is to stop the behavior directed at you. Make that your main objective, and you'll be able to increase collaboration.
So here are a few ways to handle them.
Be tactful and assertive. When the know-it-all interrupts to tell you how to do something you already know, speak up, say thank you, and then add that you'll be sure to ask them if you need help. Hopefully, this may put an end to the behavior.
But assertive does not mean being abrasive or aggressive. There are ways to soften that without showing resentment.
If needed, take them aside and explain how his or her actions make you feel. Allow them to save face by acknowledging, recognizing, or appreciating their expertise but that you are comfortable handling it independently.
Watch your tone of voice and attitude and say something in the lines of "James, I appreciate your ideas and understand you know a lot about this subject; however, I would like to handle this on my own. I'll make sure to reach out if I find myself in a place where you could help. Would that be ok?"
Excellent, now, be prepared, because the person may not back down and take responsibility.
That's when you might want to ask them to have a more serious one-on-one chat with you. Then, describe how you felt about having them interject. Use "I" phrases like: "I" was bothered when you interjected in the meeting because "I" had already worked on this project, and "I" know what needed to happen exactly.
Prepare for this conversation in advance, so you don't show up resentful but with good intentions, calm and self-assurance. Speak assertively and with tact, maintaining eye contact, and show confidence.
If necessary, again acknowledge their contribution with appreciation and remind them of your expertise. "I appreciate your expertise in this, and you are very good at it. I hope you also appreciate that I have a ton of experience with this and that I know what I'm doing"…then add. "I'd also appreciate if in the future you respect that I know what I'm doing…. Can you agree to that?" You end with a question and ask for a compromise and commitment.
A person who has a minimum of self-awareness will understand and even better, apologize.
This might not be an easy conversation, but keeping quiet and letting this happen continuously will affect you and others in your team. By thinking first and then speaking assertively, with empathy and respect, you'll be able to create an ally who will recognize your values just as much as you recognize theirs.
Lastly, remember that all this could stem from deep-seated insecurity and lack of confidence on their part. Sometimes people who feel inferior try to act with superiority as a protective mechanism. If you sense this is what is happening, go in gently, compliment this person if you can, and over time try to help them gain confidence.
(Video available here: How to deal with a know-it-all )