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If the ‘know-it-all’ actually knows it all


In the first of a new monthly column, our body language expert, Peter Clayton, explains how to deal with the 'know-it-all' delegate.

The problem: "I am a successful trainer, but still find the most challenging part of my job dealing with those notoriously ‘difficult delegates’ particularly the 'know-all' type that constantly interrupts me and thinks they know everything already. Can you give me any tips on how to deal with these people successfully?"

The solution: This one can be handled in a number of different ways depending upon the situation:

1: If the know-it-all actually knows it all!

If the know-all does actually know it all (which I have come across on a number of occasions) I get them more and more involved. I ask them to be a team leader when it comes to workshops and invite them to do the presentation. In this way I get better help on the day and the person calms down and enjoys being involved.

They also talk far less because they don’t need to. I take the opportunity during a refreshment break to chat with them and suggest that they should give the others a bit of a chance, because whilst they known what they are talking about, it is stopping a few of the others from getting involved. This works because they realise they are being appreciated.

2: When the know-it-all just likes the sound of his or her own voice!

The biggest problem arises when the know-all delegate really knows very little and they are going to cause you and the other delegates irritation throughout the day. A note of caution here. If you try to isolate this delegate from the pack with a few harsh comments during the first hour of the course, then many of the others will defend them and you may have ended up alienating the entire class for the day.

So, the following is how to deal with this type of know-all: try to make sure the room has been laid out in horseshoe shape so you can walk around the entire room whenever you feel like it. If you have a know-all who starts to answer every question or interrupts when unnecessary, walk around the room and stand very close to that person whilst continuing with module.

"The biggest problem arises when the know-all delegate really knows very little and they are going to cause you and the other delegates irritation throughout the day."

They won’t be sure whether to turn around and look at you or keep looking forward. It is amazing how often it will nip their attitude in the bud. This is because it’s a body language territory issue. You have moved into their space, they can’t move and they feel uncomfortable. When you go back to the front things calm down because they don’t want it to happen again. You might have to do this once or twice but it does work. Ask general questions so you can choose the right answer.

Another thing I would suggest is to ask the know-it-all general questions, such as: “what has changed in the last 10 years with regard to...?” or “what is the most important element for someone to be successful in...?” When the know-all pipes up with their answer you should acknowledge it with a smile, but don’t say anything. Ask someone else and when they give their answer, agree with them. Say something like “that makes absolute sense” or “that’s what I was looking for”. So now you have other delegates receiving some praise and the know-all appearing to have got it wrong even though you’ve not said so.

3: The dominant stare

When talking to the know-all stare them directly in the forehead and keep it up. They will find it very intimidating after a few minutes, even though they don’t know why. This works with most people and again they won’t want it repeating too often. They don’t realise what you are doing but they will feel uncomfortable. What we are trying to do is to neutralise this person, so hopefully they will get involved in the course and change their attitude. Remember, they may be insecure and feel the need to prove themselves to their colleagues and show how clever they are, so I like to give them every chance to get involved, but in the right way.

Do you have a pressing body-language related issue that needs answering? If so, please email us at [email protected].

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