The Limitations of Being a Know-It-All and How to Overcome Them

The legendary know-it-all himself.

Remember Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all postal worker on “Cheers”? While the barfly character was extremely knowledgeable when it came to useless information, his being such a know-it-all was also a source of comic relief on the show.

People laughed and snickered at Cliff on the show, which is what could happen to you if you get the reputation as a know-it-all. You may indeed know a lot, but if you constantly feel the need to tell others how much you know, you may not get ahead in life. Instead, others may be calling you Cliff Clavin behind your back, or be rolling your eyes when you pontificate on whatever it is you know so much about.

It’s true that being intelligent and knowledgeable can get you ahead at work, and in life. Yet there is difference between being smart, and being a know-it-all. So how can you keep from being known as a know-it-all? Here are some tips:

Learn to keep your mouth shut

If you are in an office meeting, and you have an answer for everything, even tasks that you are not responsible for, you could end up alienating your fellow employees or even your boss. For example, if you are in a department-wide meeting, and you start giving the type of explanations that your manager is supposed to be responsible for, you will come across as a know-it-all. Sometimes, you should keep your mouth shut. You want to be known as a smart, competent person, not somebody who talks too much about everything.

Listen and empathize without pontificating

Many times, when people tell you their problems, they may just want to speak their mind, without getting a know-it-all response in return. For example, if your friend is late to meet you because she had to get her car towed, the last thing she wants to hear from you is a lecture on the merits of one emergency towing company over another. Not to mention those people who have opinions and advice on everything, even if they have no experience in the field. Sure, if you are asked for specific advice, feel free to weigh in. But sometimes, it’s just enough to listen.

Acknowledge that others may be right, too

Know-it-alls often get into trouble by insisting that they are right. Even if you are right, at least be willing to listen to the other point of view, instead of going off on a monologue about why you are right. It shouldn’t be about winning an argument at any cost. You have to give respect to get respect.

Pick your spots

Just because you know the answer to something does not mean you have to automatically express an opinion on it. On the other hand, there are times where your knowledge and input is valued. For example, if there is an ongoing problem at work, and you know of a solution, you will probably want to suggest it. For example, if you see that your employer is about to make a huge factual error, like an embarrassing typographical error in an advertisement, please speak up. However, keep in mind how to make your suggestion – give it in a good spirit, in which you are genuinely trying to help, rather than show up, another person. That means talking to the person you need to in private, instead of in a group.

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About Lisa Swan 1 Article
Lisa Swan is a representative of, a company offering career, executive and life coaching.

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