Dear Crucial Skills,
I have a new employee on my team who is very knowledgeable but shares her knowledge in a very know-it-all fashion. I’m concerned this will lead to a disconnect between her and the rest of the team. I want her to develop good relationships with our team members, but I’ve noticed that her tendency is driving people away. Some folks on my team have also noticed and let me know. How do I “coach” her? I’ve never had to coach to personality traits before. It’s so much easier to address poor performance or disrespect, but this? What can I do?
Thanks for your question. Let me begin by applauding your word choice. As a people leader, one of my favorite responsibilities is that of a coach. In today’s evolving workplace, the role of servant leadership—with mentoring and coaching—is becoming more and more important. Additionally, those entering the workforce want to work in environments that foster skill development, and that requires coaching.
You may have to shift your mindset a bit to coach someone. Managing takes more of a directive approach by telling people what to do or solving their problems for them. Mentoring and coaching take an indirect approach. Mentors help by showing and offering guidance. Coaches ask questions so others can solve and overcome their own challenges.
So, what to do with your situation? How do you coach someone with a “know-it-all” personality?
Make Your Motives Clear
Focusing on what you really want is of most importance. But it’s a balance between what you want for EACH member and what you want for the TEAM. Phil Jackson, a world-champion professional basketball coach once said, “The strength of a team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
What do you want for the team? My guess is you want a team where everyone can freely and safely share their ideas with each other. You want a team that not only listens but also values everyone’s ideas and input. You want a team that creates a strong pool of shared meaning to make better decisions and get improved results.
Within the team, what do you want for each team member? Again, my guess is you want each member of your team to feel safe to share, explore, challenge, question, and inspire one another. You want them to make their biggest and best contributions. These motives should drive how you lead your team. They should be your focus when you coach, especially in times when things go wrong or emotions get strong. Once you are clear with your motives, share them with your team and remind them in moments like this when you need to address something getting in the way.
Help Her See
People are often unaware of how their behavior impacts others. Good coaches don’t merely tell others what they are doing wrong. They help them see their behavior. In sports, a coach will use game film (a video recording of the game) to help the player identify where they fell short. In watching themselves perform, you don’t have to tell them what they did wrong; they will see it.
It’s probably a bit cumbersome for you to walk around with a video camera capturing every team interaction. And even if modern technology allowed for it, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, try to capture what we might call “verbal game film.” Your question suggests that your employee shares her knowledge in a “know-it-all” fashion. What does that look like? If she were watching game film of the interaction, what would she see? What would she hear?
She may or may not know she is even doing it. Share the facts of these interactions to help her see how her behavior is affecting others. Avoid any stories or conclusions, like she’s a “know-it-all.” Doing so may trigger defensiveness and limit her receptiveness to your coaching. Stick to facts and try to help her see the impact her behavior is having on others. For example, “You may not be aware of it, but when you said in today’s marketing meeting ‘Everyone knows that direct mail is dead!’ others looked downward and went silent. Later, a few team members expressed concern that you shut down dialogue.”
Then invite her to share her thoughts after seeing the “game film.”
Let Her Lead
Whether this behavior is a new discovery or one she has been aware of for years, let her lead in exploring solutions. Too often as leaders we look for a quick fix. We insert ourselves too quickly. Remember, those you lead are closest to the problem and often know what to do better than you. Leaders are sometimes hesitant to step into a coaching role because they worry they don’t have all the answers. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to care.
Ask questions to engage her in discovering the best approach moving forward. Work jointly to find a solution that serves a mutual purpose for both her and the team.
Great leaders have a coaching mindset. Use this opportunity to identify how you can help your team learn and improve. I’d love to hear what other leaders have done to coach their team members. Tell us in the comments.