The Know-it-all

We’ve all got them in our lives and most schools have a few of them amongst their staff. They are the people who know better. At least, that’s what they believe. If there’s a problem, they will have a solution. If there is a new initiative, they’ll already know the reasons why it won’t work. If someone has an idea that requires everyone to step up, they aren’t open to it. What they do well is fire words like “we’ve tried that and it didn’t work”, “they wouldn’t know”, or “it’s easy, all we need to do is…”.

One thing is for sure. You would never hear the words “I don’t know”.

I like to consider myself a pretty tolerant person, and I don’t get annoyed quickly. That is unless I’m dealing with people who know everything, have been everywhere and have experienced everything. I find them incredibly frustrating and challenging.

So, how do you deal with these people?

The essential first step is to try and identify the antecedent for their behaviour. That is, what’s triggering them to think that they know everything. In many cases, this is about hypothesising, and in some instances, it’s just guessing.  It could be things like ‘do they feel threatened?’, ‘do they lack confidence?’ or ‘do they stand to lose something important to them?’. If you understand the reasons why, you can make sure that your support strategies are tailored to their needs.

The next step is to be empathetic towards their situation. Show your appreciation for their help and thank them for their advice, even if you disagree with it. Avoid pointing out that they are wrong and where possible, use non-threatening language. A helpful strategy is to frame your conversation is to base your points on personal experience.

You may also want to consider your questions. Generally, these people speak more than they listen. They are often forming their next argument whilst others are talking. Asking good questions allows you to control the tempo of the conversation and when needed, divert the discussion to another topic.

Despite the frustration, it’s important to maintain your sense of humour. This can help release pressure for everyone. A light-hearted conversation is okay, but despite how tempting it can be, avoid sarcasm at all costs. Whilst you won’t always find humour in the conversation, it’s equally important to let it go and not dwell on the moment.

Finally, finish with a ‘thank-you’ and then walk away. With this approach, they’ll struggle to keep arguing or pointing out that they are right.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a ‘know-it-all’ when it comes to dealing with these types of people, but the above points below have generally served me well. I still don’t get a perfect outcome every time, but they have increased my chances of succeeding with these tricky personalities. Ultimately, all I am aiming for is to avoid getting frustrated or annoyed with others. That’s a good thing for everyone involved.


Check out other articles Simon has written here.