Attack of the 50-Foot-Tall Know-it-All

My name is Jessica and I am a recovering Know-It-All.

In fact, I come from fairly hardy Know-It-All stock. Know-It-Alls (“K.I.A.s”) come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and potencies, much like the car. Some K.I.A.s are self-aware and trying to reform, while others are so deep inside their own cavernous heads it would take dynamite and an excavator to dig them out.

Frustrated with a recent encounter with a K.I.A. in my life, I found myself in a vortex of spitting anger and frustration. I had some bad thoughts. I felt bad for thinking those bad thoughts. My friends and colleagues reminded me I had the tools to work through these bad thoughts. Guess what? I’m still working on them.

As part of my process, I thought it might help to get specific about what in particular frustrates me about the K.I.A. species (Latin name: Alwaysgotta Opinionatis). My hope is that when you are able to identify a K.I.A., it will help you love – or at least tolerate – who they are more easily.

Five signs of a potential Know-It-All:

  1. Suffers from Loud Interrupting Cow Syndrome – There is a knock-knock joke where, when someone asks “Who’s there?”, the joke teller says, “Loud Interrupting Cow”. Before the audience can reply “Loud Interrupting Cow Who?”, the joke teller very loudly interrupts the reply with a “MOO!” K.I.A.s do the same thing: They interrupt your query with a response before you get a chance to finish it. They love to show you how smart they are.
  2. Complicates in an attempt to simplify – Your friendly, neighborhood K.I.A. dealer loves to try and simplify things by offering a myriad of options or suggestions, several of which require schematic diagrams and flip charts to decipher. You are hungry, suggest getting a slice of pizza, and somehow that ends up with you driving six towns over to rendezvous with a third party at an overcrowded mall restaurant.
  3. They “should” all over you – My most beloved K.I.A. loves to propose uninvited solutions to problems I didn’t know I had, and she can tell you what to do with your life…even if you’ve just met her. This involves “shoulding” all over me a lot. “You know what you should do…?” or “Oh. You’re hungry? You should go to Busytown Mall. They have great pizza.”
  4. Puts you in a position to defend decisions rather than design solutions – Now that our K.I.A. has “should” all over you AND proposed a totally ridiculous solution to satiating your hunger, you are put in a position to defend yourself on why going to the Busytown Mall for a slice is a bit…absurd.   While it seems an excessive solution to you, your K.I.A. just can’t see it. Suddenly, you are so busy trying to explain why their solution is overblown that you forget the basic problem you’re trying to solve and end up starving to death.
  5. Seems to be missing the Empathy gene– A K.I.A. will often miss subtle or overt social cues on when they’ve overstepped their bounds. Because they’ve apparently never been “normal” like the rest of us, they have a hard time seeing things from another’s perspective or relating to an experience that they themselves have not had. (“What!? You’ve never been to Busytown Mall? Whaddya some kind of subterranean troglodyte?”) This lack of empathy compounds your already high-alert defensiveness and you are often left exhausted from a conversation with a K.I.A, maybe even feeling dazed and thinking there might be something wrong with you. Don’t worry. It’s not you; it’s your K.I.A.

If you do happen to have a K.I.A. in your life,  there are simple tools for handling your interactions in the most painless way possible. Depending on the strength of your Know-It-All’s potency, you may require varying degrees of the following:

  • Never apologize, never explain – If you find yourself being lured into their web of confusion, a simple “no, thank you” will suffice. You don’t need to apologize unless you truly feel regret.  Often I get a “why?” response when I decline an offer of madness. I normally get all flustered and start trying to explain how their idea is preposterous or completely unfathomable. My husband, on the other hand, finds a simple “I’m just not interested” will suffice. His flat, emotionless delivery leaves little room for discussion.
  • Offer them wordlessness – K.I.A.s feed off of words, discussions, and debates. Your own beliefs, thoughts, or differing opinions are fuel for their fiery need for being right. If you want the spouting or the debate to end, say nothing. Don’t give your K.I.A. any feedback and eventually he’ll sputter out, and hopefully move on to another victim.
  • Clean up your own negative thinking – In reality, all of our suffering comes from our belief that a K.I.A. is “annoying”, “insufferable”, or generally shouldn’t be the way they are. Often we begin to resent the K.I.A., and, as Carrie Fisher has observed, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” As much as we might wish otherwise, K.I.A.s are exactly who they are, and how they show up in this world is simply not our business. Resenting them is futile. It is not our job to “fix” what believe is wrong with them. All we can change is how we think about them and how we react to them. (See above.)
  • Show them compassion – A K.I.A. uses her extensive knowledge of everything because she believes three things: knowledge is power; people will like them more once they see how much they know; and they are helping people by sharing everything they know. The challenge is that K.I.A.s tend to live very externally focused lives and use their knowledge as validation of their worth. If you can show them compassion when dealing with them, your wordlessness or simple “no, thank you” come from a place of kindness and not as a cold brush-off.

But then again, what do I know?