Tell It Like It Is

If you’re not a know-it-all but feel like you may be working with one, there are things you can do to address the problem.

The first thing you must do is speak up about it. If no one knows there’s an issue, nothing will change. At the same time, with a sensitive subject that involves presenting difficult feedback to a colleague or manager, diplomacy is crucial to a successful outcome.

With colleagues: If it’s a know-it-all co-worker you’re dealing with, you have a few options to raise the subject. If you feel comfortable enough with her to have a heart-to-heart discussion, you might start by requesting a private meeting, perhaps over lunch. During the meeting, let your colleague know how much you enjoy your working relationship, and that you’ve been thinking about ways to improve it. Mention that you sometimes have a difficult time expressing your ideas to her, and ask for support in voicing your opinion and getting equal airtime.

Try to get buy-in during the meeting for changing the dynamic going forward, so that your ideas won’t be overshadowed in the future. You might suggest discussing ways to alternate taking the lead on certain projects, or creating distinct time slots in meetings for each of you to offer ideas, as well as to listen.

Be sure to ask your colleague for her thoughts on how to improve the situation as well but be wary of her denying the problem or dominating the discussion once again rather than listening to you. If this happens, you may need to shift to another option: raising the subject with your colleague’s supervisor.

Save this approach as a last resort to consider only after you’ve determined direct resolution with your colleague is not possible. Reporting a problem to someone’s supervisor can jeopardize your working relationship, and may also cause political challenges for you in the office, so this action should not be taken lightly.

With managers: Often the problem of dealing with someone who always has to be right comes not from peers, but from supervisors or managers. Many managers think it’s their duty to have the last word and the opinion that matters the most but these aren’t usually the best managers.

If your supervisor or another executive who is senior to you in the organization is making it difficult for you to share your ideas, you’re in a tough but not impossible position. By nature of your role in the organization and the hierarchical structure of corporate management, you are in the position of needing to listen to your boss and other managers. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be able to express your viewpoints. In fact, it’s part of your job to do so in order to help your managers and your company.

Though it may feel difficult to raise the issue with your boss, you might try approaching the matter as something you’ve thought about to improve your contribution toward your boss’s goals. You could suggest scheduling a regular time on the calendar with your supervisor for the specific purpose of offering your ideas. By carving out a regular time for this to occur, you’ll have a better chance that you’ll have a chance to express your viewpoints to your manager on a regular basis.