Linda Lewis Griffith

How to deal with a know-it-all in your life

Know-it-alls may demonstrate their self-ascribed superiority by dominating conversations and offering unwanted advice.
Know-it-alls may demonstrate their self-ascribed superiority by dominating conversations and offering unwanted advice. Contra Costa Times/MCT

Know-it-alls are those irritating people who act as if they are experts on every topic — even when evidence and behaviors prove otherwise.

They demonstrate their self-ascribed superiority in a wide variety of ways, including dominating conversations, offering unwanted advice, being argumentative in meetings and bossing loved ones and co-workers around. They can also be condescending, challenge authority figures and engage in pointless debates.

Know-it-alls may act cocky. But that doesn’t mean they have an abundance of self-confidence. In fact, know-it-alls sometimes struggle with low self-esteem and use their braggadocio to prove to others that they are smarter than they are. It can also mask underlying anxiety and increase when they feel uncomfortable.

Know-it-alls may have a cluster of personality characteristics, including impulsivity, poor listening skills and an inability to read social cues. These could be symptomatic of certain mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or narcissistic personality disorder.

Being a know-it-all can also have a developmental component. Many moms and dads have dealt with teenagers who seemed to know all the answers and resist any input from adults. The acute obstinacy usually abates with time and the young adults become more cooperative.

Unfortunately, being a know-it-all is self-defeating. Recipients grow weary of the constant hot air and ultimately tune out whatever the braggart says. Toning down the rhetoric and allowing others to share the air waves would go a long way toward attaining the respect they so desperately crave.

How to deal with a know-it-all

  • Don’t take it personally. A know-it-all’s behavior isn’t aimed at you.
  • Avoid arguing. You want to rebut what the know-it-all says. But that locks you into a pointless power struggle. Steer clear at all costs.
  • Use flattery. Know-it-alls crave attention. Express amazement at their broad range of knowledge. Focus on their strengths and let them know how much you appreciate them.
  • Give constructive feedback. Know-it-alls may not realize that their behavior is counterproductive. Encourage them to allow others time to speak. Remind them when negative comments are inappropriate.
  • Set clear boundaries. Express yourself with clarity and decisiveness. If the know-it-all tries to intervene, re-state your plan as often as necessary.
  • Be understanding. Know-it-alls are trying their best. Use patience. Approach them with compassion and respect.
  • Be a good role model. Demonstrate good listening skills. Know-it-alls may pick up on your clues.
  • Sample script when talking with a know-it-all: “I really appreciate all you do around here. You’re a huge asset to this company. But some of the other people have told me they’re afraid to speak up because you make fun of their opinions. I know you have strong feelings about how we should operate. Still, I want everyone to feel safe. Please, let other people speak at the meetings. And I ask that you hold your opinions until the end. Thanks.”
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