Tips for sharing information without appearing to be a “know-it-all”

Dear Joan:
Just wondering if you could send some information to help me.  I am the employee you describe in your article [about a know-it-all].  We have received a new computer system within our traffic department.  I have picked up on it extremely well.  The result of that is that I have helped our sales, creative, programming and our own traffic department in understanding different aspects of the system that they did not understand.  I try really hard not to come across in a bad way, like I know everything. 

 

I especially try really hard not to jump in when others are having a conversation and are trying to figure something out that I know the answer to, but I do not want to upset my co-workers.  It has been brought to my attention that they thought that I was being bossy and b- - - - -.  I do not want to be that way - I know that I do have a dominant personality - even in my personal life.  Can you help me?

 

Answer:

When someone has a forward or dominant personality, it’s difficult to contain it. Like a boiling pot, some of it just has to bubble out from under the lid. And when you don’t soften it with interpersonal skills, the results can burn you.

 

Here are some tips to help you turn your boil down to a simmer:

 

  • Keep the conversation balanced like a seesaw.

 

When you are speaking with a coworker, think of yourself sitting on a seesaw with that coworker on the other end. When you dominate a conversation, you appear to be a big, heavy eighth grader, sitting on the seesaw with a skinny little second grader. You are the heavyweight and the other person isn’t having any fun. In fact, the lighter person doesn’t like being suspended in mid-air…it makes him or her feel powerless and small. And you end up looking like the playground bully.

 

The heavier you are (more knowledgeable, or more status) the closer you have to move toward the other person, to balance things out.

 

  • Balance the “air time.”

 

When you are trying to move closer to the other person, the conversational seesaw should move up and down, so both of you are contributing to the experience. If you are doing too much pushing, it will be too much work for you, and an out-of-control ride for the other. Consequently, limit your air time to about 50 percent.

 

  • Ask questions and listen to the answers.

 

This may seem obvious, but it doesn’t come naturally to “over-talkers.” Each time you are on the ground (on your mental seesaw), “push off” by asking a question of the other person. Individuals who come across as pushy or bossy have never learned the seesaw game. They only want to do the talking, never the questioning.

 

Asking a person questions, makes them feel valued and a part of the conversation. Just being the listener makes the person feel like a passive audience of one. The individual either feels like you think you are more important than they are, or that you are the entertainment and they are only the audience…they are to clap for you but not offer any response. Probably one of the most important things you can work on to break out of the know-it-all trap is to ask lots of questions and then probe with follow up questions, to show you’re interested.

 

  • Use disclaimers and other interpersonal padding.

 

How you say things is often more important than what you say. Going back to our seesaw example, if you are banged on the ground and flung into the air with each exchange, it wears you out or makes you feel vulnerable or angry. Disclaimers and other conversational softeners act to cushion the ride for the other person.

 

For example, rather than, “Here, let me show you how it’s done…” you could add:

 

“I had trouble with that, too. But I tried something that seemed to work. Do you want me to show you?”

 

or

 

“That is confusing, I know. And you don’t spend as much time on the computer as I do, so it’s understandable that you wouldn’t remember how to do it.” 

  • Point out what they know and don’t seek credit for what you know.

 

When you are an expert at something, rubbing people’s noses in it, tarnishes the shine. Rather than inserting yourself too quickly and waving the answer in their face, why not use a softer, Socratic method of questions built upon what they do know?

 

For instance, if you are asked to help someone on the system, it would sound like, “Let’s see. What have you tried so far?” “You really understand the sales process, so you used good logic to try to access that data…I can see why you approached it that way. Did you try X? I think that may work.” This comes across as gently leading them to the answer by thinking along with them, rather than shoving them out of the way to demonstrate that you are the expert who knows it all.

 

Ironically, the more you let others talk and ask them questions about what they know, the smarter they think you are!


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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