I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much always right. I may be able to put on a face of openness, but I am at heart a very opinionated person. Ask me about almost any subject, and I most likely will have a strong (and well-reasoned) opinion on it.
The difference between me and the folks I find downright scary? I am willing to admit that I don’t know everything, and there are whole areas about which I am clueless (e.g., opera and poetry). I am also willing to change my mind based on a compelling set of facts, personal experience or the counsel of wise people. In other words, I know I’m right AND I’m not so rigid that I am unwilling to listen, learn and change my mind.
Leaders are supposed to be open to new ideas and shift strategies when circumstances dictate. Not all do that effectively. It seems to come from a deep need to be right, which is really just masking a deep fear that they aren’t as competent as they should be.
Since it’s unlikely that you’d identify yourself as a person who must be right all the time, how can you work with someone else who is sure they’ve cornered the market on brains?
Know thy know-it-all. You’ll work more effectively with the alleged wiz if you understand what makes him or her tick. How does this person like to receive information? Do they need to know the details, or would they be more impacted by the big picture view? Would it be better to provide a visual, a bullet point list or a detailed report? Align your interactions to meet their needs, and you’ll eliminate some of the roadblocks to working together.
Appeal to their (fragile) egos. I’m not a big fan of sucking up in any form. When dealing with people who are insecure and can never be wrong, it is sometimes necessary to employ the “you-said-something-the-other-day” strategy. If you have a compelling argument for a certain decision, start from something the know-it-all said (and feel free to take a little license from there). For example, “You mentioned the budget for the ABC acquisition yesterday, and I figured you were wondering about the numbers. I took a look at them, and you’re right. We are 20% over budget! Here’s a strategy for coming in on target.” The most important part of this strategy was the “you’re right” part, which is music to their ears.
Combat their unrealistic optimism. Leaders who must be right find it difficult to appropriately gauge risk. They are overly optimistic that everything they touch will turn into gold. Proceed with caution, but do bring the facts to light. Portray it as the way to “maximize their brilliant innovation” and it will be an easier pill to swallow.
Here’s one of the most frustrating things about people who think they’re always right. Even when they do switch sides on an issue based on more information, know-it-alls find it hard to view themselves as being wrong in the first place. As Ashleigh Brilliant said, “My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I am right.”
Want to find out more about working with your (un)friendly neighborhood know-it-all? Contact Humanergy.
Photo purchased from istockphoto.com.