Archive for January, 2018

How to Deal with the Know-It-All in Your Office

Friday, January 19th, 2018


When I was in seventh grade, a new girl joined my class. Let’s call her Selena. She came from a big city, and she knew it all — what to wear, the words to songs, how to talk to teachers. She’d even spoken French in Paris. Some classmates were admiring, while others were annoyed. But I felt I needed to compete with her. I boned up on odd song lyrics and nagged my mother for what I thought were sophisticated big-city clothes. It took me some months before I realized you can’t compete with know-it-alls. As I caught up, Selena just upped the competition. And then, after she’d been in our class for awhile, she got comfortable and eased up on her attitude, leaving me to look like the know-it-all of the class.

Although no one has left quite as big an impression on me as Selena, I have met many know-it-alls in my years in human resources. Many of them, like Selena, are new to their circumstances. Some are acquired in a merger; others are hired to bring new skills or experience to their work group. Their first impulse is to say, “When I was at Big Company, we did it this way,” not realizing that their new colleagues couldn’t care less about how they did it at Big Company.

These know-it-alls are unsure of their status in the group and are trying to establish their position. One such HR newbie told me she knew everything about outplacement, and I didn’t, because she had laid off far more people than I had. This time I didn’t rise to the challenge. Instead, I tried to make her feel comfortable in her new position, and as that started to work, she relaxed her know-it-all behavior. If your know-it-all is new to the organization, you might try that approach first.

Know-it-alls don’t have to be newbies, though. Some become know-it-alls because of their success. These people are harder to deal with, particularly if they are your superiors. They believe that because of their accolades they really do know it all. And because of their success, they are entitled to tell others how to do things, down to the smallest detail. Here’s how to work with a know-it-all, no matter where they are in the company hierarchy.

If you manage or mentor a know-it-all. You have an obligation to give them feedback. Let them know that their attitude is having a negative effect on their career. Be sure to keep your feedback specific to something you have observed, to keep it credible.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report, but a colleague. It’s up to you to decide whether to say something. Consider your relationship: If you are friendly and comfortable with each other, it may make sense to have the conversation. Start by asking permission: “Can I talk to you about something?” That helps get the conversation started in the right vein. Then talk about your direct observations, putting an emphasis on your colleague’s expertise and the consequences of flaunting it: “We all know you are an expert in this area, but when you gave the answer right away, Nancy and Jorge immediately went quiet, so they didn’t get a chance to think things through or give their own answers. Did you notice that?”

It’s not a good idea to try this with a colleague you don’t know well or don’t have a good relationship with. It could easily be seen as acting like a know-it-all yourself. Wait until you have established a relationship of trust, or try some of the techniques for working with a know-it-all boss below.

If the know-it-all isn’t a direct report or a colleague, but your boss. Tread carefully. Here are a few broad rules to keep in mind if you find yourself in this worst-case scenario:

Rule #1: If the issue doesn’t matter, just leave it alone. Letting know-it-alls go on and on may be frustrating and annoying, but save your strength for when you need it.

Rule #2: If the know-it-all is wrong, and it’s important to persuade them to consider another opinion, you have to figure out how to drive a small wedge between them and their beliefs. Try these techniques:

  • Ask “Have you ever…?” This question prompts the know-it-all to bring up a successful experience on the other side of the issue. For example: “Have you ever decided to assess one of your traditional vendors? What did you do?” Asking “what if” can also get know-it-alls to see things differently: “What if we put this contract out to bid? Do you think we might get a better deal, even from our current provider?”
  • Delay for data. You might say, “That sounds like a good decision, but let me confirm that. Let’s meet next week, and in the meantime I’ll collect some data on how our people view their service quality.”
  • Look for the risk. Here, you might say, “There are some real risks. We want to be sure our products don’t have a major defect in them caused by this vendor. We might be liable. How about I check with our attorneys and risk management?”

Rule #3: If you are successful at convincing a know-it-all boss, make sure you give them credit. For example, “Ha-yoon wanted me to check with the attorneys about the risks of this contract, and we decided…” Don’t eliminate your role in the situation, but be sure to attribute some part of the decision to the know-it-all as well.

And remember — whether the know-it-all is your direct report, colleague, or boss, never, never compete. Competing won’t change a know-it-all’s behavior. You’ll just end up looking like a know-it-all yourself.

Priscilla Claman is president of Career Strategies, Inc., a Boston-based firm offering career coaching to individuals and career management services to organizations. She is also a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job.


Workplace Conflict: How to Deal with Difficult People

Friday, January 5th, 2018

We’ve all run into at least one of these four types of troublesome co-workers. Teambuilding expert Kaley Klemp explains how to handle them.

Gossiping, backstabbing, bullying and complaining co-workers will ensnare even the best employees into their unhappy world of drama and deceit. In so doing, problem employees transform otherwise efficient, benign corporate environments into tawdry scenes from Ally McBeal, The Office, House or any number of comedy shows poking fun at the dysfunctional American workplace.

In the real world, though, office drama isn’t funny. It creates stress, drains employees of energy and hampers productivity. To address these conflicts, managers and individual co-workers need to understand the “drama type” of employees creating this toxic work environment, says Kaley Klemp, co-author of The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss.

“It’s important to know who’s engaged in the drama so you can get at the root cause of the conflict,” she says.

The four primary “drama types” as described by Klemp, who is also a leadership and teambuilding coach, include: complainers, cynics, controllers and caretakers. Knowing how to handle each of these types of people will help you ward off thorny, stressful situations that could jeopardize your career.

After all, power plays end with a victor and a vanquished. Which side do you want to be on?

Here, Klemp explains the characteristics of each drama type, the kinds of conflict they create, and offers advice on how to deal with them.


Characteristics: Beyond the obvious, complainers don’t take accountability for their performance (or lack of). Instead, they blame everyone around them for not getting their work done. They also like to gossip and often fail to complete their work on time.

Conflicts: Because they point their fingers at everyone else, complainers brew ill-will among their co-workers and managers.

Tips for Handling: Klemp advises managers to listen to complainers just once. “The complainer’s story is usually, ‘Woe is me. I don’t have enough resources to do my project. No one supports me.'” If you repeatedly listen to this same tale of woe, you risk getting sucked into their drama, she warns.

When the complainer finishes her spiel, Klemp recommends that the manager remind her that everyone is working with limited resources and to ask her what she believes her options are for getting her work done.

“The goal is to establish a clear agreement about what is going to happen by when,” says Klemp. “If you let the [complainer’s] story continue, the cycle will repeat itself.”


Characteristics: Cynics are sarcastic and often arrogant, says Klemp. They can also be manipulative.

Conflicts: They’re just plain difficult to work with.

Tips for Handling: Klemp recommends starting any conversation with a cynic about their attitude or behavior by complimenting them. “Give them a sincere compliment, tell them something you admire about them,” says Klemp. “They’ll be much more open to your ‘This isn’t working for me’ conversation if they know you’re coming from a place of care.”

Tips for Handling Cynics, Cont.

Once you’ve established a cordial dialog, Klemp says to be direct and dispassionate about the behavior that’s bothering you. Explain your observation of the cynic’s behavior and how it impacts your individual performance, or if you’re a manager, the team’s performance, she says.

Managers might also try to make the following point to cynics: You have good ideas and you’re smart, but the way you communicate undermines the points you’re trying to make. You would be more effective if you changed your tone. Here’s how you can do that.

If a cordial conversation doesn’t get through to the cynic, Klemp notes that managers also have the ability to deliver an ultimatum. A manager who has to give an ultimatum to a cynic might say, according to Klemp, “I want to tap into your potential. Here’s how I’d like for you to change. If no change occurs, here are the consequences.”

The consequences might be that the cynic’s leadership role on the team ends, control over a project ends, or job loss.


Characteristics: Not surprisingly, controllers like to be in charge. They can be micromanagers and sometimes bullies, says Klemp. They’re also known for ignoring other people’s boundaries and pushing for more control and responsibility. They tend to be bad at delegating, too.

Conflicts: Turf wars, power plays, stepping on other people’s toes are all the domain of the controller. Because controllers micromanage others and start turf wars, employees who get swept up in these conflicts worry about their job security.

Tips for Handling: The key to handling a controlling co-worker is to understand very clearly where your and the controller’s responsibilities begin and end, says Klemp. For example, you can approach your manager and say, “So-and-So has been doing work that I thought was my responsibility. Can you outline for me what my responsibilities are and what So-and-So’s are so that I can be sure I am completing my work and not stepping on his toes?”

Getting a clear picture of everyone’s responsibilities will allow you to enforce your boundaries with your controlling coworker. If he continues to infringe on your territory, says Klemp, you’ll be able to tell him that you double checked your responsibilities with your manager and you’re certain that she wants you to take care of a particular job.


Characteristics: Caretakers need to be liked and feel valued. To that end, they go out of their way to help others, often to the detriment of their own work.

Conflicts: They let other people down by overpromising and under-delivering.

Tips for Handling: Mangers who oversee caretakers need to help them set boundaries so that they don’t take on too much work. Before caretakers are allowed to take on a project or pitch in to help a co-worker, they need to run it by their manager.

“Managers need to teach caretakers that ‘NO’ is not a bad word,” says Klemp.

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Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at

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