Knowledge may well be power, and when you’re incredibly informed (or at least think you are), you want to share your know-how with everyone in your presence. And what’s wrong with that? Well, when you steamroll every conversation with your know-it-all opinions, it’s a bad look that can come across as equal parts rude, pretentious, and self-centered.
Even if you contend that you do know what you’re talking about at all times, à la Bethenny Frankel on The Real Housewives of New York City, you can probably understand that in effect, this can be grating to everyone around you—in your personal and professional life. For instance, when my new roommate’s parents came recently visited our Brooklyn apartment, I felt compelled to lay out every positive attribute of Greenpoint, as if I were running for city council. And even though I’m factually correct in my contention that our proximity to Monsignor McGolrick Park offers psychological benefits, they were entitled to their IDGAF stance about my argument with no one, and I don’t think I likened myself to them anymore as a result of the interaction.
But, I was right! (And, I now know I need some help for reining in my know-it-all tendencies.) If you, too, feel you’re a know-it-all, and you suspect it’s driving everyone in your life crazy, all hope isn’t lost. Here’s an expert-informed four-pronged approach to curb your habit of being that “well, actually…” person.
1. Question why you’re commandeering the conversation
Is it an in-the-moment urge? Or something else? “The question to ask yourself is, ‘What’s your motivation?'” says clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD. “Are you needing to sound smart? Did you grow up in a competitive intellectual family and you wanted to prove you were smarter than your siblings? Are you trying to show people that you’re the person with the most interesting take on current events? Maybe it comes from a need to shine, to have the spotlight on you.”
The brings to mind Jameela Jamil’s character on The Good Place, Tahani, who spends much of the first season showboating, name-dropping, and tirelessly trying to demonstrate her worth. Where does her specific case of knowing it all stem from? Simple: A hyper-successful sister to whom she was constantly compared. Deep down, she was just plain-old insecure.
So, take a step back and examine the origins of what’s going on with you. Because, as any know-it-all can attest, knowledge is power.
2. Remember that you don’t have all the facts
Maybe there isn’t a deep-seated psychological reason that explains why you act like a know-it-all. Maybe that’s, like, just your personality, man. You truly believe that you have all of the facts at hand, and if everyone would just listen to you, the world would be a better place.
“There is tons of research that shows the chance that you’re going to change anyone’s mind by barraging them with your superior knowledge of the issue is close to zero.” —clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD
Dr. Brenner says this situation is where a bit of humility is in order, because you almost certainly don’t have all the facts, and your efforts are likely ill-fated anyway. “There is tons of research that shows the chance that you’re going to change anyone’s mind by barraging them with your superior knowledge of the issue is close to zero,” says Dr. Brenner. “Sadly, unless you’re an expert they’ve approached to solve their problem or the person who signs their paychecks, practically no one cares what you think. They’re too busy being focused on what they think.”
This doesn’t mean there’s no value in sticking to your beliefs or calling out your racist Aunt Judy every once in a while. But whether your point in question is someone’s opinions on politics or their stance on the new Starbucks flavor, swaying an already established perspective is tough. So apply your knowledge and energy where they can actually be useful. Like to your younger cousin who can legally vote in a few months, and who also hasn’t had that new Starbucks drink yet.
3. Consider whether a correction is even necessary
Did your co-worker report sales of about $700,000 and you know it was actually $699,998? Does that exact figure really matter when the qualifier of “about” is already present? And is a correction necessary? Especially in front of your boss and colleagues?
Sometimes, know-it-all tendencies can lead to undue embarrassment of others. And the effect certainly won’t raise your likability factor. “When it comes to correcting other people’s mistakes, most of the time people will take the correction but think to themselves, ‘You think you’re superior and that I’m stupid,'” Dr. Brenner says. “Not a great interpersonal move.”
4. And if you really do know what you’re talking about, here’s how to go about it
Maybe you are the smartest person in the room, the most qualified person to speak about a topic, and you feel the need to speak your truth. For example, let’s say you’re at a party and your lawyer friend Matt is mansplaining the ins and outs of menstruating to your mutual friends, Mike, Chris, and Daniel. You may be the most qualified to speak on this subject because you’re a practicing OB-GYN…and also a person who has menstruated. “The answer here is to calmly and pleasantly establish your credentials—why you know so much more than they do about the topic—and then calmly, and confidently take down what those pontificators just said,” Dr. Brenner says. “The trick is to project that you don’t need people to listen to your opinion, but of course they should because of how much you know.”
Essentially, we’re all inclined to believe that our worldview is right and have moments of believing we know it all—which is part of why it’s so hard to convince people that you’re more right than they are. So stop yourself before you drive your friends and colleagues crazy for yet another edition of “I know everything ever” and think about the prompts above—understanding why you’re expressing your thought, understanding the limitations, and identifying that it’s a helpful correction to make—before you go about sharing your truth in an effective way. Yep, even if you indeed know it all.
For a deep dive into other types of personalities, here are three signs that you’re not actually boring, you’re just a wise old soul. And, this is the test pros use to determine if someone’s a narcissist.
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