What Know-it-alls Don’t Know

In each of us there lurks a “know-it-all”; a show-off craving recognition and gnawed by self-doubt.

As a teenager, I constantly challenged my parents: about the definition of fashion, what constitutes good music, and whether curfews were a form of Fascism. Time and again, my parents dismissively fired back, “Nobody likes a know-it-all!”
The harder we strive for this kind of attention, the more our relationships—at work and at home—sour. That my parents were still speaking to me as an adult is a testament to their unconditional love.

This inner need for affirmation is the very opposite of self-confidence. If other people have to constantly hail your knowledge, just how brilliant do you really think you are?

Here’s the key to achieving recognition for your knowledge: first allow others to demonstrate their expertise. Good leaders understand this intuitively; the rest of us have to learn it the hard way.

The greatest leaders know how to elicit an “A” performance from others. They don’t tell them what to do; they ask questions that encourage them to mine and use their own expertise.

Allowing other people their expertise requires you to break a deeply ingrained habit drilled into you from kindergarten through high school: shooting your hand into the air to be the first to show that you have “the” answer. Instead, allow others to display their expertise by requesting their input:

– How would you solve this?
– What do you think we should do?
– How would you approach this issue?

Note—there is no “I’ or “me” in any of these questions. You’re seeking someone else’s knowledge and opinions, not trying to showcase your own.

Imagine how different my relationship with my parents might have been if, on occasion, I sought their input (although smelling salts would have been handy when they fainted from the shock!).

By skillfully allowing others their expertise, three possibilities surface:

1. Their expertise will grow because you are giving them the opportunity to apply it. (Remember, the Law of Attraction says you get more of what you focus on.)

2. Recognition from you will boost their self-esteem and confidence.

3. Cooperation will replace competition and others will acknowledge your expertise because it’s no longer about who has the “right” answer.

Remember, your co-workers share a need to be recognized similar to yours. Allowing them their expertise is essential for improving teamwork and camaraderie: it reduces rivalry, deepens trust and increases everyone’s access to more potentially great ideas.

Try it for yourself. Avoid saying, “Here’s what I think we should do,” and “I want you to_______.” Instead, substitute, “Here’s our goal. How do you see us getting there?” (Be sure to also let other people put their ideas to the test. Asking someone for input and then ignoring it is simply begging for trouble.)

Perhaps most important, by asking others for their ideas you say to them, “I not only respect your knowledge, I respect you.”

Try this with your friends and family, too. They’ll change their opinion of you from that of a tedious know-it-all to someone well worth heeding. And isn’t that the sort of recognition you really crave?

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