Coping with know-it-alls and bullies in the office

Thursday March 5 2020


Office bully. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By Business Daily

Muigai and Okola work in the finance department of an insurance company based in Upper Hill. Each was previously employed in banking in different retail branches. They enjoy the unique pace of the insurance sector and helping families protect their futures by covering their risk.

However, the joy and satisfaction felt by Muigai and Okola during their work get disturbed by Lewa, a colleague who thinks he knows everything about anything.

Enter a meeting, Lewa proclaims what he thinks he knows. Eat in the lunchroom, he is there spouting off facts and figures. Go to a client’s office, and there he is again disturbing colleagues’ peace by boasting what he knows. Muigai and Okola become so disturbed by Lewa that they even ponder leaving the company to find alternate employment.

All of us can recall a “know-it-all” person in our careers that dampened our spirits as we tried to humbly do our jobs. A common phrase that passes around human resources offices and lunchtime break rooms: employees quit people, not organisations.

We experience workplace bullies, gossipers, and lazy slouches all mixed with workaholics, caring, and affirming colleagues. Inasmuch, over our careers, we work alongside ridiculously disappointing as well as stunningly competent coworkers.

But often management articles fail to discuss one of the most irritating aspects of work-life: know-it-alls. These people feel as if they know more than everyone else, they tend to be louder than others, and their pride makes them loudly display their knowledge.


Now of course just because a know-it-all thinks he or she understands everything more than others, it does not make it true. Their tactics make their coworkers uncomfortable, bored, and unmotivated.

Industrial psychologist Amy Hakim focuses on know-it-alls and how to navigate them in our offices. She recommends that employees handle know-it-alls with care and intentionality.

First, consciously recognise that you will never be good enough for the know-it-all and you will not be work friends with this person. Second, know what to expect from them that they will want attention, will show off, and they will do their homework in researching facts before a meeting.

Third, since you know what to expect, then take emotion out of your work interactions with the know-it-all. You naturally would feel aggravated and irritated by them. But since you know how they will behave, you can regulate your emotions. Angry responses to know-it-alls are common, but humans cannot make logical decisions when angry. So stay calm and plan your reactions.

Fourth, Dr Hakim’s research recommends minimising the amount of time that you spend with know-it-alls. It often proves impossible to avoid them entirely in your workplace.

So intentionally only interact with them when needed and for short periods. Book meetings with minimum time. Less moments with them will dampen your emotional urges to argue with them.

Fifth, listen to the know-it-all carefully. As you listen, do not fight them over their ideas. Instead, ask thought-provoking deep questions.

Such questions could include: how does this compare to other similar situations, what results have been reported on this topic, over what period has this been achieved, what resources might be required, what unforeseen risks could hurt the success of this recommendation, etc.

Sixth and finally, do your homework. Know-it-alls project their facts, or at least their versions of facts. So you must be prepared to ask the probing intelligent questions.

When the know-it-all says a good point you agree with, then go ahead and compliment them for their good idea. But keep digging deeper with your injuries based on your research. Remember that confrontation does not work well with know-it-alls.

But what if the know-it-all is your boss? Then, unfortunately, you must focus extreme attention on step six above.

Approach them with humility, but having done your research, inquire of them with well-thought-out logical questions. If your boss does not respond to your questions and, therefore, stifles your opportunity to contribute to the team, then consider seeking alternate employment. In each job, we need the opportunity to explore, discuss, contribute, and grow.