Working with a Know-it-All

Dear Crucial Skills,

As a nurse, I am responsible for precepting our new hires. In most cases, experienced nurses come to my unit and my job is to help them learn the policies and procedures unique to our unit and the hospital. The most difficult challenge is the “know-it-all” who is impossible to teach. We avoid these people in our personal life and regard them as arrogant, but how do I deal with someone with an unteachable attitude at work?

Signed,
Preceptor
______________________

Dear Preceptor,

Braggart, smarty pants, windbag, egoist—however you refer to this category of people, it still doesn’t change the fact that “No ones likes a know-it-all!” (one of my mom’s favorite sayings—just second to the all-time favorite, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”).

Most people figure they’ll just have to grin and bear the time they’re required to spend working with a know-it all. Or, when patience finally wears thin, they try to “help” the person see the impacts of their know-it-all ways. And while either the “grin and bear it” or “put them in their place” approaches might work in a social setting, at work, you can’t simply choose to avoid these folks. It’s your job to work with them—especially in your case.

My best advice to you is to change the way you go about trying to change these new nurse’s minds.

Typically, when we have information we want to impart, our preferred method is tell, followed by tell, and then we end up with, well . . . more telling. You get the point. Instead of starting and ending with tell, try to create an experience that will help them change their own minds. Here’s what I mean.

I asked my good friend, Jamie, who’s responsible for precepting new hires at Med/Surg Psych Forensics Unit if he’d ever been assigned to train a know-it-all, and if so, what he did. “Of course,” he responded, “I had one a little while ago. She was the toughest I’ve dealt with yet.”

She came to her new unit pre-stocked with all the knowledge, expertise, and information she needed for this new unit—at least that’s what she believed. He explained she had ten years of experience as a NICU nurse and was about fifteen years older than him. She spent a significant amount of time making sure he knew she was at least twenty years beyond him in practical experience, common sense, and all around skill.

Two very long days into a two-week precepting process and she was already discounting and ignoring almost everything Jamie had to offer. And that’s when he got smart. Instead of trying to verbally convince her he had something of value to offer, he decided to let her “solo” on a tricky, but non-life-threatening task.

She floundered. He made some suggestions and, finally, she listened. This direct experience was the catalyst to her asking questions and paying more attention rather than trying to prove she already knew it all. Jamie had no more need to convince or compel. His trainee understood there were things she’d need to know and learn to do well in her new position. In a very short period of time, she ended up changing her own mind.

Now, what made this work? When Jamie switched from telling to getting this new nurse to participate in a task that required knowledge she didn’t currently have, he created a direct experience for the new hire. People usually dismiss attempts at verbal persuasion but can’t so readily dismiss things they’ve experienced firsthand. These direct experiences are both more memorable and more meaningful.

So, what does this mean for you? Try precepting up front. Shift from a theoretical description of their role to a practical one. Instead of waiting for some type of direct experience to present itself, design a process so that one of the very first, if not the first, activities you engage in are direct experiences. I’m talking about simulations or actual tasks that represent the typical types of situations a nurse will encounter in your unit. It will allow you to see what skills they are bringing to your area so you will have a better sense of how to customize their overall precepting experience. It will also provide a great direct experience for the new hire to get a sense of how different your area is and where they’ll need to focus.

I think you’ll find that as you try to incorporate this idea, you’ll come to appreciate the Chinese Proverb which counsels: Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

Best of Luck,
Steve

As one of the original trainers at VitalSmarts, Steve Wills has been on the forefront of developing award-winning training programs, perfecting quality training platforms, and delivering training content that has influenced more than 500,000 people to date. This article was originally published on the Crucial Skills blog. Shared Visions is an Associate of VitalSmarts and an authorized representative or Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations and Influencer.

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