Coping wWth “Know-It-Alls”

We’ve all encountered people who “know it all,” who have an opinion on everything and always have to be right. InCoping With Difficult People, Dr. Robert Bramson notes that some of these expert types actually know quite a bit (“Bulldozers”), while others simply act as though they do (“Balloons”). If you happen to work with one or more such people on an ongoing basis–and find it stressful–it can help to develop strategies for coping with them.

Although Bulldozers may be competent and productive, it’s natural to feel resentful toward them. Their insistence on doing everything their way, and criticism of anyone who disagrees, leads others to feel that they’re being treated like they’re incompetent. Of course, not all experts are Bulldozers; some are simply knowledgeable people who treat others with respect.

Bulldozers have usually done their homework, so you need to do yours, too. Since they have valid knowledge, it’s important to listen respectfully to what they have to say. They don’t like to be contradicted or shown up, so if you disagree, raise objections through gentle questioning. (“Could you say more about how you plan to implement your solution? Also, I have a couple of ideas to run by you, if you don’t mind.”) Finally, if all else fails, let Bulldozers be the experts, and see what you can learn from them.

Balloons, on the other hand, spout off whether or not they have any expertise. In an effort to be admired, they present themselves as experts on every topic. They are generally not as exasperating as Bulldozers, unless they’re in a position to make important decisions.

As with Bulldozers, Bramson recommends not challenging their opinions head-on, but rather presenting your arguments as an alternative version. (“Your proposal has some merit. I’d like to suggest another possible solution.”) It’s also critical to give the Balloon a way to save face, preferably in a one-on-one setting. (“Ordinarily, I think your idea would have worked…your plan is basically sound; I just want to review one or two details…”) These suggestions can make a “difficult person” seem a whole lot easier.