3 Tips on how to deal with a know-it-all colleague

That one colleague who always responds with “yes, but” to every proposal or constantly avoids taking responsibility: everyone has encountered difficult (stereo)types in their work. According to our research, highly educated professionals most frequently encounter the “Pusher” in their work. However, this type doesn’t cause the most irritation. Topping the list as the most challenging colleague? That would be the know-it-all!

Know-it-alls: They have an opinion on every subject and often give unsolicited advice. We quickly label know-it-all colleagues as people who “always criticize.” Due to this behavior, you may feel that your input is worthless or that this person is constantly trying to outdo you. This can put significant strain on the (work) relationship.

Most people who metaphorically take up a lot of space do so out of fear of not being heard themselves.

If you’re dealing with a know-it-all, keep in mind that this person wants to be recognized for their knowledge and expertise and often intends to help you.

Tip 1: Don’t engage in a fight

As annoying as it may be to receive unsolicited advice, realize that nine out of ten times, these comments are made with good intentions. Don’t argue with them, but make sure this person feels heard. Thank your colleague for their input and tactfully add your own ideas. Alternatively, create some distance:
“That’s an interesting point. I’ll take some time to think about it.”
This way, you make the know-it-all feel heard, but you’re not obligated to act on their advice (at least not immediately).

Tip 2: Need advice? Ask a specific question!

When it comes to know-it-alls at work, it’s often lamented that “they always think they know better.” Regardless of how well-founded your own arguments are, these colleagues always seem to come up with a myriad of additional facts and issues. It’s understandable that you may not be inclined to approach this colleague first. However, when you do need their input, keep it focused. Ask very specific questions like, “Do you have a suggestion regarding article 2, paragraph 3?”
Know-it-alls often mean well; they just communicate it clumsily. Extract what you can from their input!

Tip 3: Delegate more responsibility

Then there are know-it-alls who provide a lot of criticism from the sidelines during meetings. In such cases, involve your know-it-all colleague in the conversation or even the project and give them more responsibility. “It seems like you have a clear vision for this project. Would you like to take the lead?”

They might not be interested, but it’s also possible that from a position of greater responsibility, they can contribute more effectively!

What if the know-it-all crosses your boundaries?

If the know-it-all really crosses your boundaries in an unpleasant way, you’ll need to engage in a longer conversation. The best approach is to give feedback to this person by describing their behavior and revealing how it affects you before putting the ball back in their court. “You often have comments or criticisms about my ideas, and it makes me feel like you’re constantly criticizing me. Can you understand that?”

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