In all my years of being in business I've run into so many "Know it all clients" and I am sure you have and you will as well.
If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know….If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know. – Laing RD, 1970
There are two senses of the word “know”
1) awareness of self and
2) knowledge of the world.
Unfortunately, when these two come together in the worst way, we get the wondrous personality type known as the know-it-all. Narcissistic and ego-centric to the core, these types are more than aware of themselves and their knowledge of the world – their world that is.
There are those out there who don’t know that they don’t know. These are those who live by the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss”. Then there are those who stay in a constant state of flux – those who know they don’t know. These are the people who are constantly learning. Now there is also a state known as unconscious competence, or not knowing that you know, which includes your basic skills such as driving, eating, etc. – things you do without thinking. The know-it-alls are often those somewhere in the middle of one or more of these and often they are those who don’t know they don’t know but think they know EVERYTHING….hence the problem.
The key to unlocking the true sense of knowing is to get people to realize what they don’t know. With a know-it-all, the effort to do this is futile. But don’t despair, I know you’ve had those clients across from you who genuinely think they know-it-all and it is truly beyond them why they are even there talking to you in the first place. The truth is, deep down; they know they need you but for whatever reason, the need they have to be right, outweighs the need for your help. How do you deal with these unpleasant encounters with the know-it-all client in a pleasant way?
First of all, you need to master the art of the “Yes, but…” statement. “Yes, I understand that you see it this way, but this is what we’re dealing with.” “Yes, point taken but think about it this way….” Acknowledging the know-it-all’s point of view then using “but” to switch it over, stalls their momentum. Know-it-alls are often narcissistic and feel their way is the right way even if there is, in fact, no right way. As an authority on the law, you have an upper hand here and should use that advantage to turn the tables delicately using facts or actual scenarios in this “Yes, but…” manner.
Secondly, present facts in a non-threatening way. For example, “Well, here’s what I know….” or “This has been my experience…” Direct confrontation with these types is a losing proposition. Know-it-alls tend to be “grandiose egocentrics” with an inability to admit they’re ever wrong. Challenging them directly gives them power and they’ll argue relentlessly to prove their point. In fact, they’ll argue relentlessly even though they actually have no or limited knowledge about the subject at hand. All because they have the extreme need to be right all the time.
Another way to get know-it-alls off kilter is to ask about alternatives. “You look at it this way, I look at it this way…what are some ways others may see it?” By inviting them to look at the views of others, you get them to adopt a broader perspective which shifts them out of the “me-me-me” mode that they (and most clients in fact) are in.
If you want to bring the meeting with a know-it-all to an end in a productive and non-confrontational manner, initiate a closing without pushing for an apology or concession. “I’m afraid we have to agree to disagree.” “I understand where you’re coming from but it’s my duty to represent you and I must proceed in this way.” You will never get them to admit their inferior knowledge so there is no use trying to get a consensus or admission of error after a certain point, if at all. Know-it-alls have a very hard time with humility and they must be right. Keep this in mind and just call it a stalemate.
Chalk dealings with know-it-alls up to personality and know that you have a choice about how much to take. Remind yourself of the facts… “They are in a tough situation and it’s my job to help them to the best of my ability even if they think I’m wrong and I know I’m right.” Just mentally let it go. Tell yourself, “This isn’t easy or pleasant but this poor guy is doing what he needs to do to feel better about himself and his situation.” Use this along with empathy and you’ll be able to represent the know-it-alls with ease.
Suffering through one-sided conversations is a choice. You don’t have to be there but you choose to be there. In the end, the reward and overall good you’re doing for your know-it-all client far outweigh the hellish minutes of pontification you endure. Know-it-alls have insatiable egos and you have to be able to check yours when dealing with them. If you can do this, it’s a victory in and of itself.