Hot Button Employee Issue #2: The “Know it All”

Scott and Peter have been working together in the risk management department at their software company for the past few years. As the “go to” guys when it comes to any questions pertaining to security or technology, the two of them are expected to work together as a team as each brings a unique set of skills to the group. However, Scott who had been working at the organization for a few years before Peter came on board has a bit of an ego. Scott is what can be described as the “know it all” employee. He is always the first to jump in to answer questions or emails (obnoxiously so) and gets incredibly upset when Peter makes discretionary decisions without asking or consulting with him first, even though there is no supervisory relationship. Scott frequently talks over Peter, interrupts him in team meetings, and is very territorial over “his domain.” The building tension in the department has started to affect other employees and creates uncomfortable and awkward situations on a daily basis.

We all know a Scott. The “one upper,” the “know it all.” Individuals with this kind of personality are prevalent in grade school and in the professional workforce. How do you deal with an employee who interacts with others in such a way? How do you nip this behavior in the bud before it creates a hostile environment?

Mentoring and Coaching – As a manager, giving ongoing feedback is part of your job. If their behavior is creating an uncomfortable work atmosphere and is negatively affecting their coworkers and colleagues, it is your responsibility to let them know that their actions need to change. Encourage camaraderie with teammates and reiterate that their individual success relies on the success of the group, requiring a willingness on their part to consider and hear the views and suggestions of their peers.

Let the Issue Go – If the problem employee is being possessive or territorial over something that isn’t critical or imperative to the successful operation of your team/department, consider letting the issue go (e.g., pick your battles). Often times this type of individual has either a blown-up ego, so not playing into their antics and ignoring their behavior can be the best course of action.

Persuade Alternatives – In situations in which your know it all is completely in the wrong, ignoring their behavior is not the route you want to go. A way to effectively manage their behavior in such a way that doesn’t create animosity is to present alternatives to the problem by asking questions such as “Have you ever considered…” or “What if…” which allows them buy in to a more efficient and correct solution.

Employees who truly believe that they know everything and are in the right 100% of the time are some of the most challenging to deal with. It may seem that no matter how or how often you try to persuade them otherwise, they just aren’t hearing it. Approach them in a non-confrontational manner, in private, encourage positive and genuine communication, and remind them of the end goal to create and sustain a welcoming and inclusive work environment where everyone is given the opportunity to shine.