How to deal with the office know-it-all
These tips can help you coexist with the person at work who begins every sentence with, “Well, actually…”
Almost every office has someone who thinks they know everything. From the annual company report to canine dental hygiene, it’s apparently within their wheelhouse. They’re the first person to weigh in on what the monthly budget should be, how many articles to post on the company blog, and offer an opinion on the Oxford comma.
So what do you do if you love your job but can't stand this type of colleague/irritant? “This is where emotional intelligence comes in,” says Dr. Christine M. Allen, a workplace psychologist and vice president of the New York-based executive coaching firm Insight Business Works.
As tempting as it may be, you can’t say, “Thanks, but you’re wrong,” and walk away. Monster spoke to career experts to find strategies for working with the office know-it-all.
Empathize with them (yes, really)
Difficult as it may be, you need to keep your aggravation in check. As soon as you see the office know-it-all’s mouth open, resist the urge to roll your eyes into the back of your head. Instead, try to find some common ground.
“When we focus on what we agree with, it makes it easier to listen to what [the know-it-all] has to say, and it connects us on an emotional level in a positive way,” says Dr. Liz Selzer, president and CEO of Mentor Leadership Team, a Denver-based executive coaching firm. “By removing the negative emotion from our observation, we lessen our frustration and instead learn something about why the know-it-all chooses to constantly self-promote.”
For instance, the know-it-all might get defensive because he thinks people are dismissing his attempts at contributing to the team.
“I have great ideas, but no one ever takes my ideas seriously,” he muses during meetings—while interrupting you to make sure people hear his opinion. In that case, acknowledging the person’s ideas will likely establish a better working relationship. (And, who knows, he might actually have a great idea!)
“When we listen without an agenda, we can begin to understand what makes the know-it-all tick,” says Selzer. “We can identify triggers for their behavior and know how to avoid them.”
Utilize their strengths
Contrary to what the know-it-all might think, she doesn’t, in fact, know everything. But if she’s working alongside you, she (hopefully) has strong skill sets, which earned her a seat at the table. Suggest that she be in charge of one branch of a project (budget, contracts, etc.), so that she can flex her muscles without infringing on others’ responsibilities.
“Pushing them frequently to lead in one particular area,” says Angelina Darrisaw, founder of the New York City-based career-coaching firm C-Suite Coach, “can take the sting off when you tell them you need someone else to contribute in other areas.”
Strive for collaboration—not competition
Address the elephant in the conference room. When you know you’re going to have to work with an office know-it-all on a project (and are totally dreading it), Allen recommends having an honest conversation about working together.
“State your intention: ‘I’d like to work on this project collaboratively, and I know we won’t always agree. I’d like the work to be a reflection of both of our ideas,’” says Allen. “Sometimes you will just have to be very direct. For instance, say, ‘John, you have very strong opinions and I admire that; however, I feel cut off and dismissed when you insist that you are right or are not willing to compromise or collaborate with me,’” Allen suggests.
Don’t argue or look to butt heads, as that will only frustrate both of you. “In a team meeting, offer your point of view and ideas, but don’t make it about rebutting their ideas,” says Allen. “Simply state another possibility or way to look at the issue, without making it competitive.”
Remember that it isn’t an old-time Western movie with tumbleweed skittering across the office: The office is big enough for both of you.