Here are some strategies I try to use:
1. Offer meaningful compliments: Emphasis on the "meaningful." I try to say things like, “You have a good memory” or “You obviously know a lot about this subject.” Empty, automatic compliments like “Great tie!” don’t count.
2. Give credit to others: “The team did all the work,” “Pat came up with this idea.” Being generous with giving credit does not minimize your contribution.
3. Don't dispute every comment that someone makes. This is a surprisingly common phenomenon. I've named it Oppositional Conversational Style, and even if you think the OCS style has much to recommend it, most people don't like to engage this way.
4. Ask questions and allow others to supply information. I’ve seen good leaders ask questions to which they knew the answers, merely to allow others the chance to demonstrate what they know. This is a challenge for me. I am a real know-it-all; I always want to wave my hand in the air. I find it hard to ask for help, to say, “I don’t know,” or keep quiet while others respond.
5. Admit error! It’s so hard to say “You were right, I was wrong” or “This was my fault,” but so important. Also, it’s a key to leadership. As my father once told me, “If you’ll take responsibility for failure, you’ll be given responsibility for decisions.”
6. Remember other people’s names and some details of their lives. How many times have you heard people complain that “So-and-so has met me five times, but never remembers me”? It hurts people’s feelings. Unfortunately, I have a terrible time with names, so I developed some coping strategies for dealing with that.
7. Call on others for their specific contributions: “Pat is our expert on that,” “Lee, what do you think?”
8. Laugh at yourself. Few things are as winning as people who are willing to poke fun at their own foibles. This doesn’t mean saying, “I’m so clueless” and waiting for everyone to cry, “Oh, no, you’re great!” It means honestly laughing at your idiosyncrasies and mistakes.
9. Refuse to take offense. I work hard not to take myself too seriously and not get my back up.
10. Teasing. One way of showing fellow feeling is teasing people – gently. People liked to be joshed, but not about anything sensitive. Be careful. It's very easy for teasing to seem malicious and annoying, even when you don't intend to.
11. Remember your limits. You’re just one person. You’re not infallible. It actually is possible that you’re wrong.
12. Don’t be a bore. Don't assume that others are as interested in the minutiae of your life as you are.
13. Engage, yourself. Once I sat next to a guy I didn’t know, and whenever I asked him a question about himself, he answered in a word and turned the conversation to me. I'm sure he thought he was being very charming, but it made me feel as though he didn't find me worthy of his answering energy. And I couldn't become interested in him, because I didn't learn anything about him.
14. Be courteous to others, no matter who they are. William Lyon Phelps wrote, “The final test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.” It's important to be nice to everyone.
15. Don't be too humble! In her fantastic book of essays, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, Marjorie Williams recounts an old story: at a meeting of Moshe Dayan and Edward R. Murrow, Dayan repeatedly praised the newsman’s legendary broadcasts. Murrow humbly disclaimed the achievement. Finally, Dayan said, “Don’t be so modest. You’re not that good.”
What strategies do you use to avoid seeming like a know-it-all jerk? Or, put another way, what do people do that makes them seem like know-it-all jerks, and how do we avoid doing that?
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