Nobody Likes a Know-It-All

The Today Show recently fired Ann Curry from the top female anchor position.  Ever since she got the coveted job, she had been affected and stiff.  Her wardrobe had gone from normal to strange, but that is not a reason to fire somebody, and I contend that she is not the problem with the Today Show.  The problem is Natalie Morales.  She’s a big know-it-all.

Public domain image of Natalie Morales; Isn’t she beautiful?

Whenever she interviews a guest, she interrupts the person mid-sentence to explain what they’ve just said and to add her own two cents.  She laughs at her own jokes, when nobody else is laughing, and I am just plain tired of her mind-numbing commentary on every issue.  She’s the “reporter” and not the expert.  I think she has those two roles confused.

My students sometimes confuse their roles in the classroom.  They sometimes think they are the experts and become know-it-alls.  In one instance, a certain young man would not shut up, despite the fact that he hadn’t been to any of the classes so far during the semester and had not read any of the material.  His commentary got to be so annoying, that the other students began shushing him.  I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t laugh.

However, being in the presence of a know-it-all is not a laughing matter.  Usually, it is frustrating.  It often fills me with rage.  I tend to be a quiet person who listens respectfully when it isn’t my turn to talk.  However, when know-it-alls begin interrupting me (after I have been so polite to them) my blood boils.  I think a good rule in a group setting, like a class, is to limit one’s self to one or two comments.  Nobody wants to hear everything that is popping into your head.  It is narcissistic to think so.

Perhaps that is where know-it-alls come from: narcissism.  Maybe they assume that the rest of us can’t possibly get through the day without hearing everything they know that they assume we don’t know.  Perhaps they want to impress everybody with their useless knowledge.  Perhaps they aren’t self-centered at all, but instead struggling with self esteem and need endless validation.  To this, I am sympathetic, yet they still annoy me.

Are you a know it all?  Here are some questions to help you find out.

Do you have very few friends?

Do people tend to avoid eye contact with you when you are speaking at them?

Do people roll their eyes when you begin speaking?

Do you dominate every conversation in which you participate?

Do you walk away from conversations having no idea what the other person said?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you may be a know-it-all.  (You might also have some other personality disorders, but I’m not diagnosing anything besides being a know-it-all today.)

Nobody likes a know-it-all.  If you are one, change.  Start with closing your mouth.  Here’s why: I always find myself more impressed with people when I find out something remarkable about them from somebody else.  If a person goes around shouting about all of their accomplishments and throwing useless knowledge into everybody’s faces, nobody will care.  It is the humble man, who keeps quiet and confident, that I admire.  And when I realize all of the knowledge and goodness they have been acquiring instead of spewing, I am even more impressed.

A few years ago, I read a book called The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs.  I don’t remember much about the details, but it is a memoir that chronicles the author’s attempt to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.  Along the way, he learns many great and trivial facts, strains his marriage, and ultimately reaches his goal.  He also realizes that simply reading rote information or trying to digest useless facts does not make one smart or wise.  I wonder if he became an annoying know-it-all after finishing the entire encyclopedia or if he started out as one and became humbled when he realized how much he did not know.  Like I said, I don’t remember, and I don’t know him personally.  But it was a fun read.

Another enchanting account of a know-it-all leaped right from the pages of my current read, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë.  I am having trouble putting this book down, but I had to pause a moment and chuckle at Gilbert Markham’s account of his brother Fergus, who can’t help but shoot his mouth off, even in mixed company.  Here’s what Markham observes:

“Fergus sat opposite, with his legs crossed, and his hands in his breeches pockets, leaning back in his chair, and staring now up at the ceiling, now straight forward at his hostess (in a manner that made me strongly inclined to kick him out of the room), now whistling sotto voce to himself a snatch of a favourite air, now interrupting the conversation, or filling up a pause (as the case might be) with some most impertinent question or remark” (45).

This is a skilled and exquisite description of a know-it-all.  And it caused me to realize that know-it-alls aren’t a new problem.  They haven’t sprung up because of the information age or because of the supposed impertinence of today’s youth.  They’ve always been around.  They’ve probably always been friendless, as Fergus wasn’t winning any points with the lady friends in the room.  So, if even the Brontë sisters had to face and endure know-it-alls (and poke fun at them in their writing), I guess I can, too.  (Make fun of them in my writing, I mean.)

So, my “humble” advice to all of you know-it-alls out there is this:  Shut up!  You might make some friends and, gasp, learn something from somebody else.

Do you know any know-it-alls?  What advice do you have for them?



62 thoughts on “Nobody Likes a Know-It-All

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  1. Dear Emily,
    This is a great post!
    All those signs…people being to roll their eyes…the dominating of a conversation…it’s ALL TRUE!
    Know-it-alls NEED this list, because this is the one thing they don’t seem to know anything about.
    Which is baffling.
    I really love this one.

    1. Thanks! I have been accosted by my fair share of know-it-alls, and because I’m a people-watcher and observer, I’ve seen all of those signs and I give off those signals, but they never get through, do they? Hopefully, this will be a public service to those who just have no idea. 🙂

  2. Great post and such good advice. I’m working with a know-it-all right now… every time I’m in a conversation with someone else, about anything, he butts in with some comment or other (usually sarcastic) and corrects either me or the person I’m talking to – so annoying!

  3. Oh yes, I know several of them way too well unfortunately. I usually find myself tuning them out and caught in the headlights when they say “are you listening??”

  4. This is perfect! I was so tempted to forward this to a co-worker. He is the newest one in the group, but interjects his two cents into every conversation and meeting as if he know everything there is to know about everything. We’ve tried to tell him that 1) he doesn’t know what he’s talking about 2) it’s really irritating when he does this and 3) it’s ok not to be a subject matter expert in your first year on the job. Unfortunately, he hasn’t taken the advice and whenever he does speak, a dozen pairs of eyes inevitably roll skyward and he continues to look like a damn fool.

  5. I found you thanks to Lisa! And you’re so right about Natalie Morales, she does interrupt. I hated Katie Couric for the same reason. Know-it-alls do nothing except alienate and antagonize whoever they’re talking to. The only thing they’re good for is rallying everyone else against them. Great post!

  6. A lot of the students I know through the library think they are the finished article; nothing left to learn (especially art students – sorry art students who are not like this). I think it’s partly just an act. I asked one of them why he stayed in university after he told me he had transcended university education. He said because he needed a degree. I pushed a little further and asked why he needed a degree. Could his work, that he claimed to be so wonderful, not speak for itself? He said he’d better have a degree just in case. After admitting that he was forced to drop the know-it-all attitude a bit.

    1. That’s so funny. I think if we all push back a little instead of just staying silent when somebody starts talking crap, we might just help them find a little humility. Good for you! There’s a great essay about how college is all about shrinking people and helping them to be humble. I agree.

  7. I like to believe I am far from being a know-it-all. There are many things in the world that I don’t know, and I am never afraid to admit it. I don’t talk about myself unless asked, I prefer the technique of “show, don’t tell”.
    I think I know a few know-it-alls, though. They just have to have something to say about ANY subject being discussed, sometimes even trying to prove they are the best in X field and have the most experiences and knowledge. . . etc.
    I usually stay silent and let them say what they want to say. I wouldn’t not argue with them and be mistaken for the fool =P

  8. “Know it alls” depend on stupid people to listen to them. Fox news requires stupid people to maintain their ratings, and ratings matter more than truth – to stupid people.

  9. I believe this world only has room for one know it all and the rest of us are just trying to get along. Those of us in the get along category do good to just talk about what we know through experience or intense knowledge of the subject or shut up and just listen.

    1. You speak words of wisdom. I do feel more free to speak on subjects on which I am an “expert.” And that’s okay. It gets annoying when people feign to know everything about a subject when they just don’t. Great observation!

  10. I just finished reading A. J. Jacobs’s Drop Dead Healthy and really enjoyed it. I’m glad to hear you liked The Know-It-All. And I absolutely love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The problem with know-it-alls has been around for a very long time, and I have one thing to say to them: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles.” (Prov. 21:23) They’re just digging their own graves.

    1. Very nice! Of course the Bible has something to say about that! I am glad you love Wildfell Hall, too. So far, it is fantastic and one of my favorite books ever!

  11. I just had an ongoing conversation with a know-it-all this morning. I kept waiting for her to get done knowing-it-all, so I could say something, but she moved through about 10 different subjects and then it was time to go. It was very annoying! Is she a know-it-all or just a blabbermouth?

  12. Phew! After I read through the check-list, I am happy to report that I am not a know-it-all. I didn’t think I was, but it never hurts to check. This post should be put on FB as a public safety service.

  13. I don’t know many know-it-alls but when I do stumble upon one I will keep this post in mind and carry a smile on my face. What I do know is an interrupter. We have one in our family. She claims that she has to blurt her thought or else she’ll forget it. The problem isn’t that; it is that she is not listening. It is so embarrassing to witness in public.

    1. Oh my goodness. She sounds so annoying. And how selfish is it of her to claim that she can’t stop? Wow. That’s a serious problem. I wonder what she’d do if everybody in the family just started interrupting her.

  14. Wonderful post, however, it did make me cringe slightly when I read it as I thought about how many news articles and opinions I put on my Facebook that if I am really honest is probably me being a know it all and trying to convince my friends that I am right. Eeeek…..I promise to stop today:-).

  15. Oh, goodness, I was just thinking about this recently when I was in a meeting and a man kept interrupting to add his two cents. Not only were his “two cents” never relevant to the conversation, but his constant interruptions resulted in nobody else having a chance to contribute anything of worth to the meeting. It was a waste of everyone’s time. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible for a narcissistic person to see him or her self through any eyes but their own.

  16. The way you describe a know it all is so true and I’m not in a classroom.
    For example any observation I make or anything I say has to be followed with what that peson thinks.
    One time I noticed the cars purple lights one time and I wondered why they were that way and then I saw a bunch of black cars behind them with a hearse and then I realized t was a funeral.
    Then the know it all said no it’s a undercover cop car.
    Name the subject the know it all has an answer, even when I’m not asking them for an answer.
    The know it all I’m stuck with on a certain day of the week annoys me to no end and wears me out.
    It feels like I don’t count, I’m just her drug to boost this know it all up, just by existing. I feel like she’s using me as an object and doesn’t hear what I have to say.
    If I speak up she has a fit and doesn’t listen.
    If I don’t talk she doesn’t talk if I do she chimes right in and interrupts with what she thinks. She likes to get in an argument.
    Thank you so much.I thought I was the only one annoyed by these people.
    I’ve tried to have a tough skin and let her talk by not answering but it sure isn’t easy.
    Thank you so much for your post.

    1. I’m not sure how helpful my post is, but I am glad you found it. It sounds like you need a break from this person. Sometimes absence can make the heart grow fonder, or you can decide that you don’t really need this in your life. Good luck to you!

  17. I forgot to mention the know it all never shuts up but only if I’m saying anything .She doe’s this to everyone.
    I’ve spoken to her about it and she forgets what she sounds like.
    She wants all eyes on her, all the time.

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