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Know-It-All Employees Giving You a Headache?

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Work with people long enough and you’ll run into just about every sort of problem employee including the know-it-all, like Joe. He might just be young and full of himself. But more likely, he’s older, experienced, and has a lot of valuable knowledge. In this economy he could’ve been downsized out of another job, or he might have been a business owner who had to close his doors. When you brought Joe onboard, you thought he’d be the perfect addition. Instead, he flaunts his knowledge, loses patience with anyone he considers less skilled (and that might include you), and while he gets the job done, he disregards your rules and does it his way. Worse, he doesn’t seem willing to respect your authority. Some days you want to tear your hair out, or his. Unfortunately, you can’t kill him. And firing him isn’t really an option, since you need a guy with his skills.

What Can You Do?
Know-it-alls like Joe usually have ego problems. They think nobody recognizes their skills, so they blow their own horns. As obnoxious as he is, it might help to give him a pat on the back and acknowledge his abilities. One HVAC master journeyman – Jack Kelso, in Redding, California – handles it this way. “I take a guy like this aside, and lay it on the line. I tell him he was hired because he has talent and we need him on the team, but he’s got to straighten out. He may know a lot, but we all have to be willing to learn from each other, and not be critical.” Since know-it-alls like Joe tend to lose patience with other people and end up causing friction, it might help to give him more autonomy when you can. A sense of ownership of the job can turn a disgruntled employee into an asset.

Your Company, Your Rules
A know-it-all might agree to do things your way, but continue to shoot off his mouth, always talking about how his way is better. It doesn’t hurt to let little things slide. If he keeps his mouth under control around customers and doesn’t try to undermine you as the boss, what’s the real harm in letting him blow off steam now and then? Most people recognize a blowhard for what he is. Just don’t respond in kind. In the end, you’re still the boss. If real problems arise don’t be afraid to take him aside and let him know, he’s valued, but he has to come under your authority. Give yourself time to cool off, then take him aside and out your complaint. Name specific changes you want to see and when you want to see improvement. Something like this: “Joe, I want to keep you on the crew. But there’s only one boss and that’s me. You need to respect that. “Here are some things you need to change to maintain your job.

  • Stop shooting off your mouth, criticizing all the time. Everyone on this crew has skills.
  • Do not air your gripes to customers or vendors or coworkers.
  • If you are convinced you have a better way, bring it to me personally. I’m always open to improvement, but you have to tone down the way you approach me and your coworkers.

“I’m going to keep an eye on things for the next two weeks, then we’ll talk again about your progress. I hope you’ll decide to stay with us, but you have to lose the attitude.”

Whatever else you do, document the problems you have with the know-it-all, and let him know you’re doing it. He needs to know he’s a valued member of the team, but not untouchable. Documenting his offenses will provide you with leverage if you do have to take disciplinary action.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management

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