What is a know-it-all; and how do you know if you (or someone in your life) are one?

It is a person who thinks they know all the answers, to everything. Invariably, they don’t! We aren’t talking here about experts or people with a high level of knowledge. We are considering people who think they are far more knowledgeable than they are.

Know-it-alls tend not to have the self-awareness to recognize this trait. So how do you spot such a person, and most importantly, how do you deal with them?

Key traits of a know-it-all

1. Arrogance

Know-it-alls will truly believe they have all the answers. This ego can manifest in several ways, but invariably, this type of person cannot accept that there is a multitude of things that they do not understand.

This huge ego is one of the easiest ways to spot a know-it-all, since they will wear their arrogance on their sleeve, and even believe it to be a positive trait!

2. Argumentative

If you come across someone who is extremely argumentative for no particular reason, there is a good chance they are a know-it-all. This type of person loves the opportunity to prove somebody else wrong, or to make a point. They might insert themselves into somebody else’s conversation just for the opportunity of sparking an argument.

Such a smarty might also turn a gentle discussion into a full-blown row, just for the chance to make their voice heard.

3. Patronizing

Every know-it-all believes themselves to be of higher intelligence than the people around them. Whilst this couldn’t be further from the truth, they will take great pleasure in condescending, speaking down to and patronizing others with their superior intellect.

This patronizing nature comes from the belief that everybody else is less knowledgeable than they are.

4. Correcting others

The one thing that a smarty loves best is to be able to correct somebody else. Jumping in uninvited to a conversation, making a point of identifying errors and flaws in another’s argument, or loudly stating corrections is a sure-fire sign of a know-it-all.

5. Making excuses

On the other hand, the one thing know-it-alls hate most is to be wrong. You would have a very hard time convincing them of this fact, but if a smarty is proven to be incorrect, especially in a public setting, they will endeavor to find any reason to excuse their misinformation.

If they use the wrong word, they might try to pass it off as a colloquialism, for example, or say that they had misheard the question. Anything but admit being wrong!

So now we know the key traits of know-it-alls, how can we deal with them?

Dealing with a know-it-all

As with most unpleasant personality traits, a smarty usually has underlying insecurity that leads to their arrogant behavior. These could include:

  • Insecurity about their own intellect – trying so hard to bury their feelings of inadequacy that they turn this around into being a know-it-all.
  • Lack of self-control – they might be compulsive and feel unable to keep quiet even if their contribution to the conversation is unwelcome.
  • A desire for praise – somebody who yearns for approval might act as an over-achiever, and try to come up with a meaningful answer for every question and appear to be smarter than they are.

How to handle know-it-alls

Here are my tips as to how to manage a know-it-all, particularly when they are a person you are likely to encounter every day, such as a family member, friend or colleague.

1. Ask questions

A smarty wants to wow the world with their knowledge, and can often alienate friends by having a retort or comment deriding every statement somebody else might make.

This can be diffused by asking them questions. This gives a know-it-all the outlet to express themselves, get their opinions off of their chest and perhaps might mitigate their compulsion to denigrate anybody else’s thoughts or feelings.

2. Define the limitations of your time

A smarty-pants wants approval. If you find yourself losing valuable time listening to their ramblings, it is up to you to set the boundaries of your time.

Try explaining that, whilst you are interested in their opinion, you have an urgent matter to attend to. Or, set the parameters before you talk if you have a colleague who thinks they know everything and you know can wax lyrical for hours on end.

3. Admit to not knowing

This only works in some circumstances, but know-it-alls may feel fearful of being ‘found out’ and try to obscure that with having an answer for every question. If this is the underlying reason for their behavior, rather than genuine arrogance, saying that you don’t know the answer could put them at ease.

Realizing the comfort with which most people have in not knowing absolutely everything is an assurance that this is completely normal, and that they will not be judged for not being a human encyclopedia!

4. Try to be understanding

If all else fails, you could try showing tolerance for a smarty-pants who probably finds it very hard to maintain friendships or relationships. They might genuinely not realize the extent of their behavior, or how off-putting it can be, so showing empathy might help them to calm down and control their impulses.

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