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No one likes a know-it-all

By Nancy Nzalambi | June 14th 2020

Have you ever tried to correct a colleague then it backfires? Your colleague ends up angry at you and the rest of your workmates see you as a condescending know-it-all. It is an awkward experience; especially when you have to keep working with these people. All this because you simply wanted to honestly rectify an issue.

Depending on the gravity of the matter, weigh the cost. Whether the matter is insignificant and won’t cause any negative effect or raising it up is the best course of action. For instance, if your colleague mispronounced your name at first but then picked it up the correct way, you can let it slide.

However, you need to step in if a coworker does something that could affect you or the company negatively. You need to call it out in a way that instead of resenting you, your colleague will be grateful to you.

Evaluate your intentions

Before calling out your colleague, examine you motivation. Why do you want to correct them? Will there be negative consequences of you keeping mum or do you just to show off your intelligence?

You have to be aware of your intentions; your underlying reasons can skew your utterances and you may come off as a domineering know-it-all or highlight a truly concerned colleague.

Keep in mind that we generally find it unpleasant to be told we’re wrong. You cannot afford to be too blunt if you still want to have good relations with your coworker. If you doubt your capacity to raise the issue in the most appropriate way, you can ask someone else to address the issue instead.

Your relationship matters

If you have barely interacted with this colleague, you may have no idea how well they respond to criticism. They could take it personally or see it as a genuine concern.

Do not anticipate a positive response. Management experts advise that you should lower your expectations. If a healthy outcome is achieved, then it will be a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, it may not be so challenging to raise up the issue with a colleague who is also a friend.

However, never take the chance to correct an acquaintance off-hand. If carelessly handled, it could cripple your previously good relationship. The trick here is to focus on the mistake, not the person behind it. Separate the two so as not to affect their self-worth.

Handle it in private

Calling out your coworker in front of an audience communicates malice rather than genuine concern. Interrupting another person’s speech to correct a mispronunciation will only embarrass them and show you off as an attention seeker. To make your concern achieve the desirable impact, address it in private. You may even find yourself acquiring a mentee in your coworker.

Many people have employed the ‘sandwich approach’. The one giving the criticism starts off with a professional compliment, even a gratitude note appreciating the other person’s hard work, sneaks in the negative comment and finishes off with another positive note. It is like licking a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine taste better.

Some may not appreciate this approach — since the complements come backhanded — and would prefer a transparent approach.  If you choose to go straight to the point, balance it out with the thing your colleague got right. At least show that the good things do not go unnoticed.

Back up your concern with evidence

Depending on how serious the matter is, it is important to show that your concern is backed by facts and logic. Calling out someone may make them look incompetent, so make sure you have information to back up your claim. Your colleague could challenge your supporting evidence to ensure that they get what you’re trying to say.

If you are not conversant with the issue, your concern may just be what a less informed person would voice.

Learning never ceases; be humble enough to accept this lesson. Avoid statements like, “Come on, you know better than that,” if you have nothing more to say. It is belittling and rubs people the wrong way.

Lend a helping hand

Most of the times, mistakes happen as an oversight and not really on purpose. To remedy the situation, your colleague may be find him/herself quite overwhelmed. Demonstrate your noble intentions by offering support to your coworker at this time of crisis.  

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