When we’re used to being the one in charge, the one who makes the decisions and directs others to action, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know it all.
Once caught in that trap, we can think we have nothing to learn from anyone else, and that everyone else could benefit from our knowledge.
At a dinner party a few months ago, I had the painful experience of watching this know-it-all scenario play out. It was a small, casual gathering of old friends and newcomers. Partway through the evening, someone posed a question to an expert with multiple degrees in an area of highly specialized science. Very quickly, someone else jumped into the conversation. This second person, we had learned earlier in the evening, is an accomplished professional with an impressive career. But it became clear very quickly he had only limited knowledge in this area of science.
Our know-it-all speaker was determined to prevent anyone else from talking, even someone who obviously had knowledge to share. Every time the expert tried to gently correct the inaccurate information of the know-it-all, he was cut off.
It wasn’t a conversation as much as it was a duel. What could have been a lively and intelligent conversation became a boring and pointless monologue in front of an unwilling audience. In the end, no one learned anything, especially not the know-it-all.
The behavior of know-it-alls lead others to think they aren’t interested in conversation but in basking in the reflected glow of an adoring audience. The sad part is that while everyone hears the know-it-all, no one listens to him. Know-it-alls accomplish exactly the opposite of their goal. Their goal is to convey self-confidence, expertise and leadership. Instead, they reveal their insecurity, their ignorance, and their arrogance.
It’s easy for any of us to occasionally be the know-it-all. Fortunately, the cure requires only three simple steps. When we want to act with self-confidence in a situation where we do not feel self-confident, all we need to do is:
- Share the stage. Engage others by asking questions or inviting them to talk. A leader values others and their opinions.
- Listen carefully. When we focus all our attention on the person who is speaking, we learn from them and build our inventory of knowledge.
- Remember that others are experts too. No one expects us to be an expert on all subjects. Others think more of us when we’re willing to admit our ignorance. If we can’t admit that, at least we can refrain from demonstrating how little we know.
Think of it as an upward spiral. The more we relinquish control, the more others respect our position of authority. The less we talk, the more others want to talk to us. The more we allow others to tell what they know, the more we’re perceived as knowledgeable. The more respect we earn from others, the more self-confident we feel.
We have the choice whether we want to be the cocky know-it-all who aggravates others with our arrogance, or the confident leader who encourages others to share their knowledge and opinions so that every idea can be heard.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: Give yourself a break from the burden of being the one who always has all the answers. The next time a problem needs to be resolved or someone asks a question, let others do the talking. Focus all of your attention on the person who is speaking, and refrain from directing the attention back to yourself through interrupting or adding your own commentary. Remind yourself that it is okay to not know it all.