Difficult Personalities: The Know-It-All
We're back for the third installment of our "Difficult Personalities" series. So far, we've escaped the needy co-worker's grasp and busted the "ghost" employee's vanishing routine. This time, we'll scale the know-it-all's mental pedestal to get a better perspective on this difficult personality.
Always Right, Even When Wrong
Ever see that "Saturday Night Live" sketch with the woman who has a story that tops everything? If someone went skiing, she survived an avalanche; if someone got a dog, she raised a flock of eagles by catching worms with her teeth. (OK, those aren't from the actual sketches, but you get the point.) Well that's a know-it-all, and there's one in every department, according to Cathy Jensen.
"If you've done it, they've done it and they've had a better experience at it. They've done it for longer or know more about it. There isn't any topic brought up that they don't have a wealth of knowledge on," said Jensen, an HIM professional who's had her share of difficult co-workers.
The problem with know-it-alls is they don't actually know it all, but they sure as heck won't admit it. Evidence could be mounting against them, but they'll stand by whatever position they take. It appears know-it-alls have utter confidence in what they say, but Jensen wonders if there's insecurity behind the cocky façade. At any rate, she doesn't bother to call them out. "What's the point?" she noted. "You can't argue with a know-it-all."
Know-it-alls don't pose an immediate threat to patients, but they can be troubling if they're in quality assurance (QA) or education. A misinformed know-it-all may teach improper practices, but it's hard to correct a superior. The dilemma gets even worse when the know-it-all's checking your work. "If someone's going to correct something I have down right and make it wrong, then I don't want my initials at the bottom of the report," Jensen said.
QA issues will become even more prevalent as patients get more involved in care. Errors made by a know-it-all who was oh so sure of the correct way to document may put them in hot water with patients and physicians. Medical records are much more accessible than they used to be, Jensen said, so employees will need real knowledge, not just feigned confidence.
Pursue or Retreat?
"It's one of the toughest things about work, the fact that other people work with us and we have to maintain some level of friendliness, professionalism and also do our jobs at the same time," said April Callis, an organizational development consultant and principal of Springboard Consulting, East Lansing, MI.
Her advice for dealing with know-it-alls? Proceed with caution. Whether know-it-alls flaunt their knowledge to get attention or mask insecurity, they don't like being corrected. "If you go head-to-head, you'll always lose," Callis said.
Instead of arguing, listen to the know-it-all's side--and then agree. Ask for more detail: How would they go about executing their plan? What's one specific solution? The know-it-all will eventually falter and look for help, Callis said. That's when you can contribute your ideas.
If the know-it-all is your superior or instructor, be smart in your approach. Calling out a know-it-all in public could trigger a fight and jeopardize your employment or academic standing. Wait for an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the individual, Callis advised. "If you're alone asking these questions, not in a confrontational way, but in an inquisitive way, it can really work wonders," she explained.
Know-it-alls who make up things just to have something to contribute will typically back-pedal once they're caught and admit they're "no expert." Sticklers who are convinced they're correct may be harder to crack. At that point, Callis said, it may just be easier to smile, nod and move along. The brush-off won't win favor with your co-worker, but it'll get the point across.
And if the know-it-all is a friend? It's tough to leave them high-and-dry after they've volunteered helpful (at least in their opinion) input, but listening to them yammer on isn't healthy for your friendship, either. Your best bet is to politely raise attention to their know-it-all ways. If they're constantly telling you what to do, thank them for the help, but reassure them that you're confident in your performance, Callis advised. If the unsolicited advice continues, ask why they feel a need to tell you what to do. They'll likely try to search for a reason, and realize they don't have one.