MeatballWiki | RecentChanges | Random Page | Indices | Categories

Online you will find a lot of know-it-alls. These are people who use their knowledge as a weapon to gain power. While knowledge literally is power (cf. Foucault, 1979), these people use their self-perception of their knowledge as power, which may be vastly out of whack with reality. They have an overpowering self-confidence in their own knowledge which they leverage to make others feel unempowered. They normally have strong skills of perception and memory which they discover in childhood can give them power to control their environment. Online, in media that is recorded, they may simply have better search and reference skills. We all know the Google trolls: the people who cloud their arguments with references from Google searches in an effort to look smart.

Since they shut people (with legitimate knowledge) down by yelling or remaining obstinate, they are dangers to fruitful discussion.

Things get worse when they are necessary to make a decision. They need to be massaged. Three simple rules:

  1. Be prepared. If you are confident in what you know, they don't have power over you.
  2. Listen and paraphrase what they say. This strokes their egos that they are smart.
  3. Ask leading questions that don't challenge their ideas directly. e.g. "I've fixed cars for eight years. I know that you need XYZ spare part." "I'm just worried about this new hybrid engine. Do you know XYZ responds when the car is working off electricity?" even if you know XYZ explodes in hybrid cars.

Force them to review plans and consider consequences and praise their knowledge.

When they aren't necessary to the online discussion, record their advice and then refer to it along your own knowledge discovery. As you find holes in what they have said, quietly and with humility say you don't understand the problem between reality and what they said. They will spend a lot of time fixing the gap for you, which can be useful, since they pride themselves solely on the accuracy of their knowledge. Use their insecurity for you.

Then again, since they hold up useful knowledge discovery by other people, even if they may be warehouses of a lot of information, it might be worthwhile to cut your losses and DissuadeInteraction with them. Eventually people will make up the loss--hopefully.


Reading this page makes me uncomfortable; I'm not entirely sure why. I suspect it's because it's phrased so categorically. It tells us that some people just are know-it-alls, and we're given advice on how to deal with Those People. I don't think this is accurate. Many people are know-it-alls now and then, in one field or another. Know-it-alling is something that people do, I'd say, not something that one is. If we AssumeGoodFaith, we should assume that the know-it-alling person might be a valuable member of the community if they'd just stop doing that, and think about ways to incent them not to do that (rather than slapping the KnowItAll label on them, and putting up defensive barriers and using mitigating strategies against them, and "managing" them and even isolating them based on that label). -- DavidChess

David, I can understand your feelings. There are lots of pages that describe situations or roles in a simplified way. This isn't meant to label specific people, it's meant to characterize a role, to provide help for identification and for strategies how to cope with people that take the role. By the way you don't need to apologize for your opinions (I deleted that part), for we really appreciate your contributions. Of course, any strategy to get people out of the KnowItAll role is welcome, sometimes one succeeds to do so, but no "silver bullet" has yet been found. -- HelmutLeitner

I would also be careful claiming everyone is like this. This page doesn't describe LocalExpert?s. It describes a particular type of personality that uses information as a weapon all the time. -- SunirShah

My claim is that everyone is (almost everyone is? lots of people are?) like this sometimes. And sure, some people are probably like this much of the time (all the time? well, maybe; I don't know anyone like that myself). But it's most interestingly treated as a continuum, a behavior that various people exhibit to various degrees and that we can do things about on that basis, as opposed to an UsAndThem sort of thing where We Good People try to defend ourselves against Those Nasty KnowItAll People. Again perhaps overoptimism on my part, but at least something to think about in future refactoring... -- DavidChess

True. Let's ignore blaming the person, and only deflect the behaviour. -- SunirShah

While I like this page and think that it is largely accurate, I think it somehow fails to capture the essence of the personality type and behavior. Knowledge itself is an element. Overconfidence is an element. Willingness to use these as a way to overwhelm others is an element. But there's more. A lack of due humility, I think, and a refusal to accept, even internally, the limitations of one's own knowledge and skills of perception and understanding. These are people who have never been in a room containing ten people who are all clearly more capable than they are. Another element is a perceived need to respond to any question in sagelike fashion; a know-it-all will state the obvious or guess at an answer even though this does not contribute meaningfully to the conversation. -Steve

CategoryConflict CategoryDifficultPerson CategoryRole


MeatballWiki | RecentChanges | Random Page | Indices | Categories
Edit text of this page | View other revisions