Managing the office know-it-all is a task that puts stress on even the best team leader. Whether that know-it-all is a bona fide expert in his field or a wannabe pretending to be an expert, this person can throw your whole team off its stride. To manage know-it-alls, you need to understand the root of what causes the behavior, as managing experts is a closely related endeavor with its own potential pitfalls.
Understand the Root of the Problem
To manage a know-it-all, stop to think about what's causing the behavior. Often, the person is insecure and trying to cover up that insecurity by proving his worth as a pseudo-expert. Some people combine this insecurity with a fear of intimacy, using their pontificating behavior to push people away from them. Other know-it-alls feel superior to their teammates and treat others with contempt, often thinly veiled, as a result. Of course, this sense of grandiosity can stem from an even deeper sense of insecurity, taking your analysis of the problem person full circle.
If you're managing true experts, the problem may stem from the experts' narrow focus. Compare the advice you're getting from them with the reality of the situation your team is dealing with to make sure the experts are getting the big picture, and don't kowtow to them just because they've been labeled experts. There's a reason you're the manager of your team.
You can mitigate some of the difficulties of managing know-it-alls by establishing an office culture that encourages learning on the part of the whole team. Encourage debates and create safe spaces for brainstorming. Provide opportunities for the whole team to share their wisdom, and make sure everyone is heard. Emphasize the need for facts and data, and measure everything the know-it-all or expert says against the data to make sure you're all dealing with the same version of reality. You can manage a know-it-all much easier if your whole team's input is welcomed and appreciated.
Stop the Problem Before It Starts
Instead of simply managing the office know-it-all, try to avoid hiring him in the first place. During job interviews, watch out for aggressive candidates. Job seekers who boast about their accomplishments or give you a hard sell as to why you should hire them are really sending you a message that they're potential know-it-alls. Sometimes, know-it-alls attempt to show off how much more they know about your job and your company than you do. No matter how shiny a candidate's resume may be, step away if you think the person might disrupt your team.
Whether you're managing know-it-alls or managing experts, your goal must be to make sure you mitigate friction between team members and allow the other members of your team to be heard. Take steps to understand why the know-it-all is displaying such behavior, and establish procedures that take advantage of true expertise while minimizing potential damage to your department's sense of teamwork.
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