How to Work with the Office Know-it-All


By Yvonne Milosevic

Ah, the office know-it-all—almost every workplace has one. You know the type: They think they’re always right and would rather die than admit to being wrong. They dig in their heels when confronted with an opposing viewpoint. Without a doubt, they believe they are the smartest person in the room.

Whether you work side by side with this person or need to manage their outsized personality, working with a know-it-all colleague is totes frustrating. See if these tips can help you better deal with people who exhibit “chronic certainty.”

Don’t react in the heat of the moment

Biting your tongue while Mr. Know-it-All lets you know why his solution to X problem is far superior to yours requires Herculean restraint. But reacting in the heat of the moment will trigger a confrontation that benefits precisely no one.

Those who must always be right are often hot-headed and quick to overreact. Don’t fall into their trap.  Instead, take time to cool off and then schedule a meeting to discuss the issue.

Keep emotions out of it

You want to call them out on the condescending behavior without displaying anger or exasperation. After all, you’re supposed to be the one with higher emotional intelligence in this scenario. Keep the conversation focused on the goal or problem at hand. Provide explicit examples of what you observed.

Did Mr. Know-it-All cut you off in a meeting before you could offer an alternative viewpoint? Maybe he dismissed your proposal as inferior without giving it full consideration. If you can remain calm and factual, you’re setting an excellent example for Mr. Know-it-All to mirror in the future.

Determine if office culture is a contributor

As this piece in Harvard Business Review points out, sometimes the working environment unwittingly encourages overconfidence. If the prevailing company culture is uber-competitive and prizes assertive behavior, employees may view wavering as a sign of weakness.

The authors suggest that managers discourage know-it-all behavior by asking people to come to meetings armed and ready to share the pros and cons of the issue at hand. They also suggest making it the norm to have team members weigh in with opposing views when making decisions. These approaches balance confidence in one’s opinion without the dogma of certainty, they say.

Call out the behavior if you manage or mentor the know-it-all

Ignoring employees or mentees who act like the smartest person in the room can create a hostile work environment for team members who must put up with the egomaniac. Even if they are star employees in every other respect, you’ve got to let them know their attitude is harming their career, writes Priscilla Claman in HBR. Again, keep the feedback objective, specific, and credible. As a supervisor, it falls on you to set the tone for your team.

Mr. or Ms. Know-it-All may never wholly shed their patronizing ways, but these tips can help you co-exist peacefully.