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How to Handle Know-It-All Employees

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We’re all familiar with a certain type of employee: the one who always has to have to last word, who’s never wrong about anything (even when he is), and who speaks up during meetings just to hear the majestic tones of his own voice. This employee may be a nice person most of the time, and he may be a hard worker and an asset to the team. But when he thinks he has the perfect answer to a question or problem, watch out. He doesn’t like to be contradicted and during an argument, he would rather “win” than learn something or find an effective solution to a shared problem.

This employee can be a challenge, especially for younger and less experienced managers. But if he’s your direct report, you’ll have to figure out how to rein in his negative tendencies while cultivating his positive side. Here are a few moves that can help.

1. First, hire smart.

Once your know-it-all is officially on the team, your problems have already taken root. But if you screen your candidates carefully for this distasteful trait, you can prevent countless interpersonal conflicts long before they begin. Look for candidates who are open-minded, calm, outward-focused, and willing to learn and listen. Avoid those who are overly impressed with their own knowledge base and those who tend to launch into conversations unprepared and at top volume.

2. Criticize in private.

If your employee is undermining his own career and sabotaging his own relationships with his know-it-all behavior, pull him aside. Arrange a private meeting and bring up the subject in a tactful but direct way. Try statements like: “I noticed that you didn’t back down from that argument, even after your statement had clearly been proven incorrect. Next time, try a more productive approach.” Or: “Your listening and conversational skills could use some attention. Let’s work together and make a concrete step-by-step improvement plan.”

3. Let him know that his actions have consequences.

Explain to your employee (again, in a direct and tactful way) that his know-it-all tendencies are standing in the way of group success and holding back his efforts to fit in. Most people who fit the know-it-all description are simply trying to gain the respect of others. Show your employee a different, more effective path to the same goal.

For more on how to handle specific problem employees and negative behavior patterns, contact the staffing and management experts at Cordia.