There is no such thing as a know-it-all. It’s impossible – no one is an expert in everything. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t those who think and act like they are.

Our cultural climate breeds what I’ll term “know-it-all”ism. Some of this is due to access to information. Technology means we can look up anything with the click of a button or a voice command to Siri or Alexa. While handy, the Internet can be like Miracle Grow to pride – a feeling like we are more knowledgeable in our mind than in actual reality.

Feeding the Know-It-All Mentality

For me, graduate school fed a “know-it-all” mentality. I remember several assignments that asked me to read two divergent opinions on a controversial issue and then write an opinion paper. When I look back, it’s a bit odd that I was acting as judge and jury between two scholars who had spent a considerable amount of time investigating a subject I had just briefly wandered into. I knew enough to have an opinion – often a passionate one. But, I wasn’t really all that knowledgeable.

A big problem with know-it-alls is that for all they claim to know, they don’t know they are one.

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“Know-it-all”ism pops up in every area of our culture. We see it in sports when a passionate fan is yelling obscenities at a coach while telling everyone what he or she would do instead. Certainly, it pops up in politics, where constituents (and unfortunately legislators) offer up advice on policies they haven’t actually studied. It’s what fuels talk radio, punditry, and admittedly blog posts.

A big problem with know-it-alls is that for all they claim to know, they don’t know they are one. They’re oblivious. That’s a scary thought because it means if you or I are being prideful and arrogant, we’ll likely be the last ones to know it.

So, what are some things that might clue us in to whether we are a know-it-all? Here are a few characteristics to be on guard against.

Know-it-alls…

Reject Nuance

Experts in a particular field understand the complexities and intricacies of what they study. They wrestle with new data and often don’t come to a black or white resolution. Know-it-alls overlook details. They don’t watch the film from a previous game. They don’t go to primary sources. Instead, they love broad summaries and information in bite-sized chunks.

Come to Conclusions Quickly

Deep thinking and careful reflection take time. Know-it-alls don’t do careful or deep. Instead of first thinking whom else they need to talk with or what else they might need to learn before voicing an opinion, they jump to a fast conclusion. And, just as quickly, they love sharing that opinion, often through social media.

Offer Lots of Unsolicited Advice

Experts understand their limitations. They know what they don’t know. Know-it-alls have lots of advice to share, especially outside of their particular field. They love running to the stage after a presentation, going down to the field after their kid’s game to talk to a coach, or calling into a program to vent about what they would have done better.

Don’t Listen Well

Ironically, most know-it-alls hate being on the receiving end of feedback. They run from divergent opinions and sources. They listen – but only to a select group of people. Listening well requires hearing from those who come with a different perspective.

In our culture today, “know-it-all”ism is dominating our discussions. People who aren’t experts – who haven’t invested the time or energy to investigate an issue – are dictating the terms. As a result, many of our elected officials are ceding to the demands of know-it-alls. Worse, many know-it-alls are being elected. The same could be said in many different fields.

Dive Deep Instead

Good citizens aren’t know-it-alls. America is a democratic republic, which we rely on elected representatives for our legislating. At the core, citizens of a republic recognize they don’t know-it-all and, in fact, can’t know everything. The nuances and details of legislation require an expertise and intense amount of time most people don’t have. So, we elect trustworthy people to work on our behalf.

Our job is to empower trustworthy people and be trustworthy people ourselves. What does that mean? It means we discern who is actually an expert instead of a know-it-all… and vote, employ, invest in, or rely on her or him.

And, it means we work hard at becoming knowledgeable. This doesn’t mean we try to learn everything. Who can? Instead, we find our field of study and dive in deep. We become an expert somewhere and share our learnings with the rest of the world.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography
Nobody is an expert on everything. So why is our culture overridden with know-it-alls? Here's how to know if you are one and how to change it if you are.

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