“Whenever I’m at work or with friends, it feels like I can’t stop correcting the people around me. I know I’m being annoying, but I don’t know how to stop. How can I stop acting like a know-it-all?”
Do you struggle to keep yourself from correcting people? Have people told you that you’re condescending or a know-it-all? If you want to connect deeply with others, it’s best to avoid know-it-all behavior. But you probably know that. The problem is knowing how to stop.
If you’re not sure if you come across as a know-it-all, it may help to ask yourself if you often feel the urge to correct people. If others have told you that you come across as a know-it-all, it may be something you want to work on.
Here is how to stop being a know-it-all:
If you live long enough, you’ll have the experience of being entirely sure of yourself and finding out you had the wrong information all along. There are common misconceptions that some of us may have heard at home or school and repeated them because we were sure that it was reputable.
The truth is no one knows everything. In fact, the less we know, the more we think we know, but the more we know about a topic, the less confident we feel in that area. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The world’s leading experts on any given topic will probably tell you that they still have a lot to learn on a subject they may have already studied for ten years.
So when you think you know everything about a topic, remind yourself that it’s improbable. There is always more to learn and always a possibility that we may have misunderstood something. Every day and every conversation is an opportunity to learn something new.
There’s a saying that goes, “Would you rather be right or be happy?” Our need to correct others can leave them feeling hurt or frustrated. In the long-term, people may think that it’s draining to be around us and prefer to keep their distance. As a result, our relationships suffer, and we may end up lonely.
Ask yourself what your intention is when you correct people. Do you believe that knowing certain information will benefit them? Are you trying to maintain an image of someone knowledgeable? Is it more important to connect with people or have them think that you’re intelligent?
Remind yourself of your intention when you go into conversations. You probably feel that it’s more important to connect to people than prove them wrong. In this case, alienating people by correcting them will backfire.
When you want to correct someone, get in the habit of asking yourself what your desired effect is. Do you think it will make a meaningful difference? Remember that you’re actively working on changing this pattern of correcting people when it’s not necessary. Making this change can be a long process, so don’t beat yourself up when you “slip up.”
One of the main characteristics of a know-it-all is impulsivity. Working on your impulsivity directly can help you with your impulse to correct others.
When you listen to someone speaking and notice yourself getting worked up and thinking about how to respond, shift your attention to your breath. Try to slow down your breathing, counting to yourself as you breathe in and then as you breathe out. You may find if you wait before responding and practice active listening, your urge to jump in and correct them goes away.
Start using phrases such as “I believe,” “I’ve heard,” and “perhaps.” Let go of the need to sound like an authority, particularly when you aren’t one. Even if you’re confident you’re correct, placing an “I think” before the rest of your sentence helps it land better.
Try to minimize using phrases that make you come across as arrogant or superior, like “actually” or “I think you’ll find…”
Some know-it-alls are insecure. Your need to correct people and appear wise may come from a fear that your intelligence is your only good quality. Or perhaps you believe, deep down, that unless you make yourself stand out in a group, no one will notice you.
Reminding yourself that you’re a lovable person can help you let go of the need to impress others with your knowledge.
In many cases, we get the urge to correct someone when there are no real consequences to them being wrong. There’s nothing morally wrong in being wrong about something! Particularly if what someone is wrong about is not relevant to the situation.
Let’s say someone is sharing a story about something that happened to them, and they mention being at a restaurant at 8 p.m. in the evening. Does it matter much if the restaurant closes at 7.30 p.m.? In this case, correcting them just throws them off and will make them feel distracted and discouraged. If someone is sharing what they thought of a movie, sharing esoteric trivia about the production likely takes away from what they are trying to express.
Some people aren’t as interested in learning new things or are only interested in specific topics. Or perhaps they are open and curious, but not in a group or social situation.
Learning to “read the room” can take a while, and even the most socially skilled people can get it wrong sometimes. In general, keep in mind that it’s usually better to show interest in what others are saying than to correct them.
Over time, you’ll find more people with similar interests who will be interested in learning new things. Just make sure you’re open to learning from them too.
Are you having difficulty showing interest in others? We have an article that can help you learn how to be more interested in others.
People don’t tend to take well to being told that they’re wrong. Instead of telling someone what to do or that they’re mistaken, consider phrasing things in question format.
For example, if someone says something you think is wrong, you can ask them where they heard or read that. Instead of saying, “The correct response is…” try phrasing it this way: “What if…?”
Some other questions that may be helpful are:
- “What makes you say that?”
- “Have you thought about…?”
- “Have you accounted for…?” or “What about…?”
Asking these types of questions comes across as a desire to have a conversation rather than put someone down.
You can also ask someone directly if they are open to feedback, advice, or corrections. Often, people just want to feel like someone is listening to them.
In general, asking your conversation partner questions can help you appear less of a know-it-all. When someone asks you a question, practice turning it back on them (after you answer, of course). If you need more help with asking questions, read our article on using the FORD method for asking questions.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine you are surrounded by professionals in something you’re completely new to. How would you like the people around you to respond when you make a mistake?
There is always someone out there who is smarter than you on most topics, and there are always people who don’t know anything on topics you’re a master of. In both cases, compassion is key.
If you don’t want people to think you’re a know-it-all, admit that you don’t know it all! When you’re wrong, admit it. Get comfortable with saying, “you were right” and “I should have phrased that differently.” Work on your instinct to defend yourself or divert attention from your mistakes. Owning up to mistakes will make you more relatable and less intimidating.
A know-it-all may think they’re better than other people or worry that they’re not good enough. They may feel the need to impress others with their knowledge or have trouble letting things go.
Some common characteristics of a know-it-all are difficulty reading social cues, impulsivity, and a need to impress others. If you typically find yourself interrupting, correcting others, or taking charge of conversations, you may be coming across as a know-it-all.