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How to Work with a Know-it-All

Updated on March 31, 2011

Over the years I have attended more meetings than I can possibly remember. I had two today. I have also facilitated and chaired quite a few. I am using the terms facilitate and chair here to mean basically the same thing, but there are differences and we will explore those differences in a separate entry.

Of the many bits of information I have gained during this period is that successful meetings require diversity just like a thriving garden requires more than one type of plant to reach its maximum potential.

If all the people around the table are carbon copies of each other then the results of that meeting will likely be flat and lifeless.

Diversity is essential, however, there are certain behavioral patterns that can kill a committee and a possibly great project before it gets out of the ground.

The facilitator must learn to identify these potential threats and find ways to channel their harmful words and deed into actions that aid the whole. Now, this is something that is much easier to say than it is to do.

The identification part will evolve when you have attended enough meetings or do a little research into human behavior. I believe any good chair needs to be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This familiarity can come in handy when the facilitator is trying to weed the garden without hampering growth.

The persona I find the most difficult to work with positively is the know-it-all. The know-it-all may roll his eyes when someone speaks, make muffled sounds, whispering under their breath for example, low enough so no one hears what was said but loud enough to disrupt. Their body language eyes averted, slumped shoulders for example, also gives them away.

However, what is even more annoying is they act like they have the answer and all you really need to do is ask them to take over and the problems will all go away. I have found my letting this type have the lead in a small part of the whole is an effective way to expose their true weakness. They really do not know what to do, won’t ask and get snarly when someone offers assistance.

So what do you do? Well I always make it known to the group I am working with that if they have a question or want to bounce and idea, they can talk with me, I will listen and respond. Be kind. I also share information, these days by email so the person is free to sue without having to acknowledge that they got the source from me. I am not after credit, I am either getting paid well or doing some volunteer work and making a difference. I get all the credit I need.

How else can you deal with the know-it-all.  Sometimes confrontation is effective. Ask them what they would do when their displeasure shows.  Do this in a calm and gentle way if they have an idea it might be worth hearing; if they don’t everyone will soon know.

It also helps to bear in mind that you only have to deal with this person for the duration of the meeting, there is no need to go for coffee or lunch with them and you are not inviting them to your house for supper.

Consider the greater goal, the reasons the committee came together and  focus on process; do this and you will get where you are going.


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  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

    Worse, too true, thanks for dropping by.

  • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

    Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

    Just have to agree with you on how irritating (or worse) these people can be.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

    The topper I have known too many of those, thanks for stopping by.

  • rpalulis profile image

    rpalulis 6 years ago from NY

    I can't stand working with know it all's, I think that the "Topper" is just as annoying. The topper always has a better story, idea, whatever it is the topper always puts their two cents in which always has to be better than everyone else's, always, every time- they can't help themselves.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

    True, in a social context you can move out of earshot and calmly ignore the kita.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Meetings and committees are hard to manage while maintaining your sanity and manners. You are captive in the group, and must not come off as an "A***."

    However, equally or even more annoying is the 'kita' in a social situation. No matter what anyone has read, done or explored, the 'kita' has done it all before, bigger, better and faster.

    They're probably (if you were to believe their pronouncements) extremely good at such diverse things as skydiving, brain surgery and auto repair.

    There is no point at all trying to communicate with this type of person. They are of the mindset, "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts."

    No matter what you counter, no matter what facts you present, no matter how well-founded your position, they will counter your counter; out-shout everyone; interrupt to get their story heard and start arguments. In short, they should not have been invited.

    My defense is to wander away out of earshot. At least in this situation, you can escape. ;-)

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

    Silence can be quite powerful.

  • Peter Owen profile image

    Peter Owen 6 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

    I'm usually patient. Their weaknesses always show up and apparent to all.I never even have to say much. Silence and a smile is more crushing to the person than confronting them directly.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

    Agreed, when in charge the kita is trouble much like certain political systems I could mention.

  • Paul Wallis profile image

    Paul Wallis 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    The know it all type is usually a pedant, and impresses others simply because they seem to know what they're talking about, regardless of the fact that they rarely if ever do.If in control of a group, they're a disaster. Not unlike certain political systems I could mention.