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Dealing with a Super Know-it-All

This month, in our LinkedIN group, Tanveer Dhillon asked, “How do you deal with a Super Know it All?” Once again, our community rose to the challenge and offered some very rich advice.

Most “liked” were Jeanne Etcheverry’s seven techniques.

I think you found a good solution by involving other participants. It is an example of the trainer taking control of the learning experience. Here are some other ideas:

1. Change your standard discussion technique by asking the students to write their short answers down before discussing the question. Then call on one person at a time. It’s not spontaneous but you regain control. And when your problem student violates that process, ask him/her to stop EACH time. You can use comments such as “Please remember I want you to wait to be called on”. The peer pressure and desire to conform may finally cause the behavior to cease.

2. Tell the class that you want them to discuss the question, but “John” is going to review the discussion at the end & let us know if we’ve missed any points. It gives that person a chance to “show off” but still puts you in control of the discussion.

3. In a similar situation I don’t hesitate to say “John, please don’t answer the question until the others have given their answers.” Then, pose the question. You’re not being unkind by providing direct feedback to John about the behavior you want.

4. Create a contest like Jeopardy where partipants have to hit a buzzer (or simulate a buzzer) to be the first to answer.

5. Create a round-robin where each person takes a turn to answer first.

6. You might ask the problem person to facilitate the discussion. It’s way different to be a know-it-all than to be the person who helps others learn

7. Don’t hesitate to ask them to leave since they’re disruptive. The inappropriate behavior is obvious to all involved. It’s up to the instructor to confront it, change the situation or everyone suffers from it. These all involve invoking the “power of the instructor” – and demonstrate effective communication techniques. Sometimes these folks can be quite a headache, but after a while you’ll have developed quite a repetoire of methods to handle the disruptions.

For the complete discussion, click here.

Other highlights include:

Be a continual student yourself

Always being the student allows us to further our own knowledge. Continuing to learn and grow, without the attitude that you know it all is a message that you can share. The most successful people in life are those that keep learning and don’t get to a point where they know everything. You can start your training with this message, and pointing out the disadvantages of being the “know it all”, even before it happens (because there is always one in the room).  Posted online by Debbie Ruston

Address them at a break

“As a general rule, I find it useful to manage difficult behavior by changing the activity or the training style for a while, as Jeanne has suggested, e.g. if someone is monopolizing a discussion, move to pair work or small group work or introduce an activity where people write their thoughts and share them around. This minimizes the impact of the behavior without you having to address it directly in the group.  Challenging behavior in front of the group always carries a risk that it might become confrontational and the rest of the group can close ranks with the person you are challenging if they feel you have been too aggressive or unfair in your treatment.

I have very occasionally suggested to someone that he might want to leave a course, perhaps if he really has had the training already and it is not a good use of his time. In a corporate situation, you would have to check the consequences of this – to yourself and to the participant. Posted online by Alan Matthews

 Kung Fu Approach

Perhaps the greatest lesson can be derived from Kung Fu. The essence in Kung Fu lies in using your opponents strength and power against him. In a training environment, the idea would be to channel the I-Know-it-All’s (IKIA) knowledge and energy towards accomplishing the training objective. To do this we may follow the following steps:

  • At a break, acknowledge and praise the IKIA for the immense knowledge he has gained
  • Ask him how he came about such knowledge and listen carefully
  • Win him over and make him understand how he can help with the training by considering and summarizing the points others have before he jumps in with his own.

Posted online by Tanveer Dhillon

 Praise. Praise. Praise.

In one session, I profusely thanked our Know-it-All for his insight and acknowledged the fact that he has attended similar program in the past and therefore had an advantage. After I kept praising him more and more, he suddenly lost interest. It may be worth a try. Posted online by Jagdish Bapat

 Ask them to elaborate….

I have found there are two types of KIA’s, the book learner and the actual user and you can usually spot them right off. I use both types to help get my point across. If they have actual experience I ask them to elaborate more on their experience, what the circumstances were and how they benefited from the skill. If they have only read about the skill or technique I thank them for the input and then ask the rest of the class if any of them have any real word experience and how they used or benefited by it. The book learner will usually quiet down if he knows there are others in the room with actual experience and the user will be more interested in how the others handled the same situation and let them talk. Posted online by Gary Brophy

 Write down answers

Have participants write down answers (which allows the introverts more participation), then share with a buddy and then have the ‘buddy’ share verbally the other person’s content. Works every time. Posted online by Bob Freese

 Acknowledge over-enthusiasm

Sometimes its just over-enthusiasm and I’ve used this approach with great success, “I am delighted that you are so engaged with this process and want to contribute, so please make a note of your queries and contributions as we go along and if we have time at the end we’ll address them” with a really warm, genuine smile…. does the trick really well! And personally I’d rather deal with an IKIA than indifference or apathy! Posted online by Pamina Mullins

The apathetic duo

One group I worked with had two members who lacked energy and enthusiasm, which had a negative impact on any other participants with whom they were grouped. Once I understood this, I decided to pair them together each time.  After the third time they were paired, one of them noticed and asked why I was doing that. I answered, “whenever I put you in trios it transpired that six people didn’t do the exercise, even in pairs, four people didn’t do the exercise. I won’t ask people how they felt about that, but I decided that putting you together would respect your lack of energy and engagement, and give everyone else the chance to work with people who want to support each other’s learning!

One of the pair said, “I resent that – you didn’t consult with us!” I replied, “Well, it is a consequence of your behaviour and I understand that you resent it. Please think about what would you like to happen while I explain the next exercise, then we’ll have a chat.”  To cut the story short, I was able toacknowledge the very real change in both their attitudes and actions – and they gave me excellent feedback.  Posted online by Michael Mallows