IT Employment

What would we do without those who know it all?


Everyone knows a know-it-all. And if you know only one, then consider yourself blessed. The know-it-all is the guy who, after you tell him what you paid for a new lawn mower, tells you he saw one for a lot cheaper. It's the woman who takes particular joy in pointing out the small typo in the report on which you worked frantically to meet an early deadline. They are those people who, wrapped in the luxury of hindsight, feel compelled to point out how you could have done things differently.

Don't get me wrong. Constructive criticism is invaluable. The problem is that this kind of criticism is not constructive. You can't turn back the hands of time to retype that report so why point out the typo? Perhaps the most egregious example of this I ever encountered was a guy at one company I worked for whose job it was to compile a report of all the mistakes he found in our newsletters each month after they were printed and mailed to subscribers. In one, he pointed out an article that was in the Time Roman font but seemed to have "a Helvetica space" between two words. I mean, come on. A) Who cares? and B) What are the chances of that particular error ever occurring again in the history of mankind? It did no good to point it out.

I once knew an executive who loved to assign small projects to people and not give them any details of what he wanted. It was only after you did your best and presented the end product that he tore it apart, making you start over from square one. It wasn't that what you did wasn't good, it just wasn't what he wanted. And he chose not to tell you what he wanted until the deal was done. This gave his ego some kind of boost I guess. What he didn't realize is that anyone can find fault with anything if it is their sole intention to do so. If you have no idea of the work and complexity that went into something, you can very easily fly in kamikaze-style and just defecate all over everything. The real sign of maturity and character is if you can resist the urge to do so when nothing can be changed anyway.

Know-it-alls can be very negative. Their mantra is "That won't work." It's the person who doesn't have much to do with a company-wide project while it is being developed, but is ever so happy to point out the failures once it's rolled out. (I've been told that the word for this is schadenfreude┬Śmeaning to get enjoyment from the troubles of others. However, I can never remember how to pronounce it. I keep wanting to say Schenectady--the city in New York. But I digress.)

What draws these people to smug superiority? I've been told that behind all such self-aggrandizing and fault-finding is low self-esteem. Somehow people with inferiority complexes don't feel as threatened if they can point out the shortcomings of others. For that reason, I've tried to be understanding. I figure if it affords their fragile egos some measure of balm, then I can turn the other cheek.

But it can get really tiresome. And I'm not quite sure of the reaction these people are expecting, either. Do they think that at some executive meeting in the future, the CEO will say, "You know, Harold down in data entry always seems to find the holes in our end-products. What say we run this multi-million dollar merger deal by him first?" Well, that's not going to happen. And no one is going to be rushing down to Harold's cubicle to get his first reactions if those reactions are always bad. He won't get a reputation for being savvy. He will get a reputation for being negative and annoying.

Have you learned how to deal effectively with a know-it-all? Perhaps you yourself know it all and would like to defend your position. Let's hear from both!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

4 comments
sbuck
sbuck

While some of us pay attention to how many tasks we can complete, others are more focused on the aesthetics of the end result. If you had any training in music you might be more apt to cringe when you hear a wrong note. If your English teacher worked really hard with you to review your own work, you might cringe when you see easily correctable typos and misspellings. Rather than put other people down, we should relish in the diversity of our skill sets. If what you do requires precision, you better involve a know-it-all or you will fail. Focus on your skill set and involve others to make you successful. If you're a know-it-all, you need "people people" to buffer your correct but often brash sounding remarks. Do you want to drive a car designed built and tested by a group of people who make fun of people who embrace knowledge? I don't think so. Consider that thought when developing your own corporate culture.

Absolutely
Absolutely

you'd be better off asking me how I became so knowledgeable than continuing to whine about how much I know that you don't.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

perhaps you should have consulted them before you guessed it all. LOL Seriously I some times I come across as a bit arrogant due to my experience, but I try very very very hard not to be negative. The "oh I wouldn't have done it like that" manouvre is only healthy if because and an alternative are supplied with it. The first thing an accomplished professional should be aware of is that they most definitely do not know it all. Applying that perjorative is basically an cya mechanism, when you feel you've messed up. Or a description for a complete twonk. If they are only negative, put them on the defensive. Dont tell me I did it wrong, tell me how to do it right, is a perfectly valid response. If you do have access to someone who believes they've got the tee-shirt. Involve them early, before you've made critical promises or decisions that limit the alternatives you can choose. I don't know, can usually be corrected. I guessed wrong is a lot more expensive. Even if they are negative, go Sherlock Holmes on them, if you eliminate the impossible.... PS anyone who claims to know all about it, definitely doesn't or is so narrowly focused that most of the time what they know is inapplicable.

millernorma
millernorma

I strongly believe that a person who "knows-it-all" should be everybody's friend, more than someone to be given a cold shoulder. If your mistakes are pointed out - even if the horse has already gone through the gate - should be greatly respected. This will ensure that those mistakes aren't repeated. I guess I like a "know-it-all" who really really knows it all.

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