The Don’t Know It All Syndrome folks operate under the delusion that they Know It All. They always lecture and need to dominate the room. They always have the first answer (and, in their minds, the only answer) to any question. To say they have egos is an understatement. They cut into conversations when other people are speaking because they feel what they have to say is more important. Their information isn’t always correct or even factual, but it is always delivered as the irrefutable truth.
They irritate the heck out of us. We repeatedly try to interject our thoughts into conversations and are overrun by their continuous flood of words. We turn off and tune out. We dismiss and marginalize them.
Then there are the folks with Self-Affirming Know It All Syndrome. They are subject matter experts but require continuous affirmation. Self-Affirming Know It All’s try to dominate every conversation to prove – to themselves as much as to others – what they know. Self-Affirming Know It All’s disrupt conversations by continually uttering single word verbal agreements like “Right!”, “Exactly!,” “Of Course!”, “Aha!” when other people are speaking.
They irritate the heck out of us. To say they have egos is an understatement. Their information is, in fact, always correct. They are the folks which we, as leaders, take aside after meetings. We ask them to focus on sharing the air with everyone else in the room. We make them aware of those ingrained habits which hold them back from becoming the type of leader they are capable of. We focus them on learning to be more gracious and collaborative with their peers.
Ah, the folks with True Know It All Syndrome. They are subject matter experts. They are opinionated, inviting others to push back and challenge them. They encourage the type of spirited debate that results in everyone expanding the boundaries of their respective mindset, habits, values, opinions and learning.
They require us to know our stuff in order to participate. They push us to be prepared for anything during a meeting. They are thoughtful listeners and wonderful facilitators. They challenge by asking great questions rather than spouting rhetorical, conversation-ending utterances.
As a result, we become sharper and more astute about matters. As a result we become more comfortable operating in environments where uncertainty and ambiguity are the norm.
True Know It All Syndrome is founded on a self-confident style which initially intimidates the heck out of us. Especially if these daunting folks come from a scientific of technical background. Especially if we come from a business or sales background. Especially if we are newbies or lack experience.
Yes, from time to time the True Know It All’s are predictably irritating to us. Their information is, in fact, always correct. Yet they are innovative and visionary, always pointing towards “What’s Next?” and beyond. They are charismatic. They are on the cutting edge of what is happening in their field or in their industry vertical.
We can’t wait for the next time we are invited to sit at their tables.
Perhaps I just described one of your colleagues or clients. Then again, perhaps I just described you.
This week, identify the folks in your workplace and among your client base with various forms of Know It All Syndrome.
In the past, how have you behaved when working with them? Armed with the insights from this post, how will your behavior change to target a more collaborative, productive and innovative outcome?
Babette N. Ten Haken is a strategist, analyst, author and blogger. Her focus: the interrelationship between teams, leadership and culture in technology and manufacturing. Her Workshops target excellence in the execution of strategy. Babette began her career in clinical research where she was asked to bring clarity to stalemated cross-functional conversations. Her Playbook of collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com. She writes for IBM, Penton, and other brands in the technology sector.