Know-It-All (10 Types of Difficult People)



“Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don’t.” — Leo Buscaglia

Seldom in doubt, the Know-It-All person has a low tolerance for correction and contradiction.

If something goes wrong, however, the Know-It-All will speak with the same authority about who’s to blame – you!

The Know-It-All can be one of the toughest of all the types of difficult people to deal with.

The challenge with a Know-It-All is that often enough they do, which perpetuates the pattern

In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner write about dealing with people with Know-It-All behavior.

Your Goal in Dealing with a Know-It-All

You goal in dealing with a difficult person that is demonstrating the Know-It-All behavior is to get them to open their minds to new ideas.

Via Dealing with People You Can’t Stand:

“Your goal with the Know-It-All is to open his or her mind to new information and ideas. A day may come when you have a better idea or the missing piece of the puzzle!

When that day comes, and you feel the moral imperative of getting your idea implemented, take aim at the goal and go for it.

If the Know-It-All stands in your way, let your mounting frustration become sheer determination to open the person’s mind to your idea.”

Action Plan for Dealing with a Know-It-All

Brinkman and Kirschner provide prescriptive guidance for dealing with Know-It-Alls:

  1. Be prepared and know your stuff. Clearly think through your ideas ahead of time. The Know-It-All defense system monitors incoming information for errors. Know-It-All will pick up any shortcoming and use it to discredit your whole idea.
  2. Backtracking respectfully. You have to do more backtracking (echo back) with a Know-It-All than any other difficult person. If you don’t backtrack, you run the risk of having to listen to the Know-It-All as they repeat themselves, over and over again.
  3. Blend with doubts and desires. If the Know-It-All has doubts about your idea, then there’s specific criteria that aren’t being addressed, such as the reasons why or why not. Show how your idea factors the Know-It-Alls specific criteria into account. Know-It-Alls tend to have a finite set of dismissal statements that reflect their highly valued criteria.
  4. Present your views indirectly. Proceed quickly but cautiously while defenses are temporarily down. Use softening words “maybe,” “perhaps,” “this may be a detour,” “bear with me a moment,” “I was just wondering,” and “What do you suppose.” Use plural nouns like “we” or “us” over “I” or “you.” It can help give the Know-It-All a bit of ownership.
  5. Turn the Know-It-All into a mentor. Openly acknowledge the knowledgable problem person as your mentor in some area of your life that you seek to develop. By letting the Know-It-All that you recognize an expert, and are willing to learn from one, you become less of a threat. You may find your way from the “disenfranchised” group into the “generally-recognized-as-safe-to-listent-to” group.

Examples of Responding to Know-It-Alls

Brinkman and Kirschner provide examples of responses to Know-It-Alls:

  • Be prepared to know your stuff. “And sir, the nutrition diet you’re referring to … I believe the Merck manual recommends 70 grams of protein a day as tolerated by the patient, is that right sir?”  (Know your stuff)
  • Backtracking respectfully. “Dr. Leavitt, sir, if I understand you correctly, the peripheral neuropathy, glossits, and tender hepatomegaly are all characteristic signs of the start of alcoholic cirrhosis?”  (Backtrack with respect)
  • Blend with doubts and desires. “Thank you, sir. This may be a bit of a detour, sir, but I was reading in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition about some research on the amin acid L-carnititine and its effect on liver function. Now I know your feeling about ‘health supplements.’ (Blend with doubts)
  • Turn the Know-It-All into a mentor. “I want to learn. show me what you would do,” (Turn them into mentors)

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Don’t make it personal. One of the challenges when presenting information is when making a point, becomes an argument, becomes a debate, becomes personal attacks. Keep it objective.
  • Decide if it’s worth it. Maybe the homework you have to do to talk intelligently with your Know-It-All isn’t worth it. Don’t just think short-term though; consider the long term relationship.
  • Consider “wearing a hat.” You can think of yourself wearing a hat if you need to switch modes that you aren’t comfortable with. You can invite your Know-It-All to wear a hat as well, so that you can collaboratively both support and attack the information as a team. See Six Thinking Hats.
  • Use your Know-It-All as a mentor. This is a great recommendation. It expands your pool of people to learn from. It forces you to find something about the Know-It-All that you can respect. It builds common ground. You improve your skills.

You can better leverage Know-It-Alls when you can inspire their curiosity or leverage them for your learning.

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10 Types of Difficult People

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Six Thinking Hats


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