Every office has that one person that causes everybody to cringe; the one who has the solution to every problem, and is, of course, an instant expert at anything they try.
These employees don’t hold a conversation, but merely wait for their chance to talk. They always know the best solution, and are so convinced of their opinion that one would be hard pressed to change their mind.
These types of employees strive on self-importance, and often appear to take the opposite side in any debate just for the sake of being contrary. Their constant need to correct others is sure to have a negative impact on even the most up-beat colleagues.
The strategies needed for effective leaders to manage these know-it-all employees will vary greatly based on the underlying mechanism behind the behaviours. More often than not, these “experts” are secretly insecure and trying to build a sense of self-confidence through being seen as correct or knowledgeable, though occasionally the behaviours will stem from a sense of superiority or grandiosity. Insecure know-it-alls require a gentle approach to avoid a backlash of defensiveness geared toward protecting their self-esteem, while the grandiose employee may need to be firmly put in their place.
For insecure experts, changing know-it-all behaviour must begin through flattery.
Using phrases like:
“Wow, that’s interesting! I heard that…”
“I would really appreciate it if you could let me know what you think about …” can help these abrasive personalities to feel validated. If their behaviour stems from low self-esteem and the need to fee respected, providing enough acknowledgement to meet their psychological needs can open them up to a two-way dialogue on a topic.
Another great method is to pretend that their information reminded you of an article you read on the topic, allowing you to correct their information subtly and show them that they are not the only one with knowledge on the subject.
This is often enough to dissuade know-it-alls from continuing to argue over a topic they don’t actually have a base of knowledge in, and may in fact teach them that having a little bit of background can lead to an engaging and enjoyable discussion.
For grandiose experts, the flattery method is rarely effective and is more likely to increase the problem. In these instances, leaders and employees alike will have to be prepared to take on the role of office fact checker.
Each time the know-it-all makes a statement that seems a little bit far-fetched, colleagues should respond by asking for the source of their information. If they can’t remember where or how they learned the fact, simply ask them to bring you a source that you can check out.
This strategy can be used to help to prevent know-it-all employees from dragging out meetings with their long-winded statements on just about every topic. If the “expert” continues to interrupt meetings despite leaders making it clear that they expect facts to be backed by credible sources, leaders should begin brining documentation to support their decision making process. When the expert interrupts, they can simple state that the decision has been made and that the individual is welcome to read the report detailing the rationale if they like.
Regardless of the type of know-it-all your office is faced with, it is the responsibility of an effective leader to ensure that the behaviours do not affect the productivity or engagement of the rest of the office.
While the age-old adage of knowing when to pick your battles still holds true, leaders cannot allow an employee to undermine authority by constantly correcting leaders or damage morale by creating a hostile work environment. By addressing the source of the behaviours, leaders can encourage these disengaged employees to redirect their energies into a more productive channel.
Senior Trainer & Consultant