Female worker thinking in conversation

What the workplace know-it-all doesn’t know

Tips for dealing with those who claim to be an expert on everything

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Female worker thinking in conversation

If there is a problem, they have the solution. If there is a question, they have the answer. If there is confusion, they can provide clarity. And if there is conflict, only they can resolve it.

There is only one thing you will never hear them say: “I don’t know”.

We all know how annoying and frustrating it is when one of our colleagues comes across as knowing everything about everything.

This is why you will need to be “in the know” yourself when it comes to understanding how to deal with their antics.

Know-it-all's in the workplace

The workplace know-it-all behaves as if they have a comprehensive and superior knowledge and understanding of just about anything work-related.

While the desire to share knowledge and information with others in the workplace is admirable, it is how the know-it-all goes about imparting their “knowledge” that creates the concern.

The know-it-all derives pleasure from instructing others how to do their jobs but has difficulty following directions themselves.

They are quick to chime in with their views on a topic but will rarely listen to others, and believe they are always right even though at times they have been proven to be wrong.

Perhaps worse, the know-it-all can be quick to judge, become argumentative if questioned and often is arrogant and condescending when sharing their expertise.

The know-it-all's “my way or the highway” attitude often leaves colleagues and sometimes their customers marinating in misery and feeling powerless to improve what can be a difficult situation.

Most believe their know-it-all colleagues are just plain selfish. Yet the reality is their behaviour is most likely an attempt to mask their own insecurity.

And if it is not their lack of confidence at play, it is possible they have become accustomed to being the centre of attention or have come from an environment where they have had to compete for any attention at all.

Experts recommend a number of tactics to alleviate their negative impact in the workplace.

How to approach

Knowing more about someone who claims to be an expert on everything – including the experiences they claim to have had – can help to assess the validity of what they are dishing up to others in the workplace.

Another approach is to ask probing questions, in a polite way of course, to test some of their thinking and the evidence behind what the “expert-in-everything” claims to be accurate.

It is always possible to make it clear that you will have to “agree to disagree” and move on from what the know-it-all is feeding you when you find what they are telling you is difficult to digest.

Importantly, the best advice is to not take their behaviour personally and avoid getting into an argument with any colleague who adopts a holier-than-thou approach with their co-workers.

If all else fails, it might be wise to subtly remind your colleague from time to time – and without having to crow-bar it into the conversation – that according to the famous historical figure and teacher Confucius “real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance”.