Thank God It's Monday™ e-zine by Roxanne Emmerich
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Issue: 94
September 6, 2010
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Dear Roxanne,
We have a "know it all" manager. She’s bright and talented and brings in the business, but she can be incredibly overbearing, which is demoralizing to the rest of us. The truth is that she does have some good ideas and brings value to the team but she is definitely not always right and her ideas are not always the best ones. How do we get senior management to recognize this and react accordingly?

-- Melissa P.

Dear Melissa,
We've all been there. This kind of person shows up in every organization. There are ways to deal with it, but I wouldn't start with senior management. To have any hope of a good outcome, you have to start with the person herself. This week's column will walk you through the steps to a good resolution. Let me know how it goes!


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Teaching the Know-It-All a Thing or Two

The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.

–Harry S. Truman

Mindy Dunsmore was my very first Know-It-All. We were in second grade together. Whenever the teacher asked a question--heck, whenever the teacher wandered sideways into a topic area Mindy knew something about--Mindy's hand shot toward the ceiling. And since she knew everything about everything on Earth, that hand seemed to stay up for most of my childhood. I pictured her sleeping with it fully extended.

Whenever there was a group project, Mindy could be counted on to take it over, poo-pooing any input from the rest of us.

But I began to notice something about Mindy. She was so busy showing that she knew everything that she stopped listening, stopped learning. Pretty soon she was struggling to keep up, all the while pretending she knew it all.

It didn't take long in the adult workforce for me to meet a few more Mindys, all waggling their hands in the air, keen to show off their knowledge and quick to dismiss input from anyone else.

I quickly learned that the Know-It-All, like any other dysfunctional behavior, had to be addressed directly. It was important for everyone to be heard and for no one's ideas to receive a special hearing just because they were fronted with overconfidence.

Start by asking the Know-It-All if you can have a brief chat. In a gentle and kind way, say the following: "When we are in a meeting, I sometimes feel that your way of presenting ideas is more final than it should be, which shuts other people down. When you say things like, 'Here is the answer and the only answer,' others feel shut down and unable to offer their own ideas. I would ask that you offer your idea as an idea, not as the only solution, ask that others be open to it, and phrase it in a way that makes it possible for us to be open to it."

Explain why you think this is important, then ask directly: "Do I have your commitment?"

If that doesn’t solve the problem, take it to your senior managers. Say, "I've gone to so and so about this situation and have not seen any changes. Please give me some coaching toward how I can work with her." This will not only bring awareness to the senior management team, but it will portray you as a good solid citizen who really is caring but not inappropriate.

Don’t get disheartened--this type of individual shows up in every organization. Keep handling it appropriately and the best outcome will happen.


Tips for Dealing with ALL Problem Behaviors

  1. Handle it yourself. Don't involve management unless you've exhausted all reasonable means on your own.
  2. Be direct but calm. Remember that most annoying behaviors in the workplace are the product of cluelessness, not evil intent.
  3. Secure a commitment to change the behavior. Don't just talk to the person. Look him or her in the eye and ask for a promise.
  4. Follow through. If the person backslides, flash a (polite) reminder--with a smile!

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