Yes, I know that…

We have all met people who are ever eager to interrupt you, not let you say what you want, and rather pompously proclaim: “Yes, I know that”. I am sure you must have felt the same frustration that I feel when I hear these words. If you know it all: what is there for me to speak? is my opinion of no consequence? what am i doing in this interaction? does discussion have no value?

As a college student, many, many years ago I had read a short story of Somerset Maugham entitled : Mr Know-All. The setting is on a ship. There is person who everyone soon comes to dread as he is always holding forth, having the last word, and generally showing off his knowledge and expertise on every subject imaginable!! Of course he is well read and knowledgeable. But the stance is that I am smarter and I know more than you, him , and all others…combined !!! Obviously he wears his welcome super thin, and no one wants him at their dining table: as they know only Mr Know_All will speak, and others have to only listen.

No one likes such a person: but if we think back do we not have such people in our own social circles? Full of themselves, pompous to the core, these people rough shod over all others in their groups. They obviously looooove the sound of their voice and hold forth ad infinitum. God help you, if you happen to inherit a boss who is like this. Gone are the days when a Boss is expected to now all answers and “tell” his team. Today’s successful bosses are facilitators who will ask the right questions and let the answers and ideas flow from the team. This empowers and energizes the team and enables them to give their best. But the Know-All Boss is never in the “ask” mode. Or worst, if due to some guidance from his own Mentor, the Boss asks the question: Lo and Behold! he quickly goes forward to answer his own questions. Even if some doggedly determined subordinate tries to get an idea or suggestion in, the Know All boss will hasten to interrupt and takeover the point and make it his own or show the flaws and difficulties with the idea which finally ends in shutting up the poor subordinate. Tell me truly: how many times have we found ourselves in this situation, unable to get in a word edge-ways as our Boss knows it all!!!???

On a lighter note, had read a joke: My wife is just like Google, she never lets me complete a sentence. A la Google, she has multiple suggestions ready already!!! Wives, Mothers, Fathers, Bosses, Teachers all use their “pre-eminence” and superiority to stop your thought process as they always think they know what you want to say. And your story,your version, your truth often remains untold.

In Siemens we had a very smart Factory Manager. Super intelligent and capable, technical whiz. Always thought 3 steps ahead of the rest of us. And so he was perpetually guilty of using the famous three words “I know that” ; but, unlike their more famous cousin-three-words (I Love You), these words made enemies for him. People always thought he did not care for others and did not carry his team with him and resultantly, despite his super intelligence, he never grew in the company hierarchy. Organizations have no jobs for Supermen today. In the interdependent world, we need team players. As soon as you say “I know that” new learning and creative thinking stops. In today’s VUCA world I have to learn new things every day. New ways to solve age old problems: creative ways to resolve emerging issues and innovative approaches to change frontiers of knowledge: all these require you to stay humble and never say “I know that”. I know that is static: while today’s problems ( and their solutions) are dynamic.

Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses begins by saying : “much have I seen and known” : an apt paraphrase for “I know that”. But Ulysses knows that this not enough: he goes on:-
“Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”
Be hungry for new experiences and knowledge as tomorrow’s solutions lie in that gleaming, un-travelled world. Be open: you have not seen it all.

I began with Maugham’s Mr Know All story. So let me tell you how it ends. Our Mr Know All is at one dinner table one night: and holding forth as is his wont. And showing off to others, how he knows it all. He looks at a pearl necklace worn by a lady on the table and compliments her for the classic, natural pearls. He opines that their rarity and purity is such that the necklace must be very, very expensive. He advises her to be very careful of that piece of jewelery. The lady’s husband is not amused. He says his wife bought those pearls from a village fair and they have no value at all. Mr Know All is taken aback. He says all his knowledge and learning is at stake and he knows they are very, very valuable pearls: costing thousands of ponds sterling. The lady is flushing and uncomfortable. She says she has a bill somewhere which shows that the necklace cost her just a pound and a half at a village fair, and she can show the bill. All retire for the night: Mr Know All in a most perturbed state and the couple most flustered. In the dark night, the lady searches out Mr Know All to tell him that the pearls are indeed genuine and most expensive. But they were gifted to her by her paramour. And obviously she cannot let her husband know about her lover and her infidelity. Next morning at breakfast Mr Know All goes upto her table and accepts to her husband and her that he was wrong. The pearls are indeed worthless!! And apologizes for his “mistake” in judging them.

Mr Know Alls of today must temper their knowledge and experience with the heart and humility shown by Maugham’s protagonist. Even when you know the answer, practice saying: I don’t know how to solve this problem. Eat the humble pie and ask for others to help. Seek their opinions and inputs. Let others shine and take credit. Don’t ever, ever say “I know that”.

I am proud that I know nothing, can you help please: vikas

47 Replies to “Yes, I know that…”

  1. It was nice to go through your blog.

    I was in the middle of something and I forgot it until​ I completed the article…

    And
    It set me thinking…do I also absentmindedly get into this…and choke others …

    Wonderful and thanks for such a thoughtful article….

    Keep sending me the same….
    Thanks again..

    Regards

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    1. Sunil
      yes we all are guilty of falling into this trap once in a while. as long as we are aware there is hope for a change
      keep encouraging me
      and thanks for taking the time to write back

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  2. Completely agreed.. We come across many of them. The good listener is the good learner, because he welcomes the thoughts of others. The person with a Know all Attitude gets aways from new learning.

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    1. Vasu
      well said
      Only a listener can learn
      and sadly we are never taught listening skills in school or at home
      so only when we grow up we have to teach active listening to our own selves.
      Unfortunately some people miss out on this imp life skill
      and end up losing a lot
      Hope we can make more and more people aware of keeping an open mind and learning and listening continuously

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  3. Wah Wah! Bahut khoob! These discussions in the car are out to be fruitful for us all. hehehe. But as Yeats says, “The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity”. Some of us just lack the ability to show our brilliance. There are also those who ‘have it and flaunt it’ Well the world is made of all kinds of people, isn’t it?

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    1. Thanks Ameya. Yes I will need to paraphrase Shakespeare and say : “Fool look under the hood of the car and write” but who am i to question inspiration?

      Yeats quote is good and captures the dilemma well. If the best lack conviction heaven help the Draupadis of the world as they will continue to be disrobed. And the worst full of intensity will lead to the rise of another Nazi war machine. The race is never to the swift and in today’s times there is a lot of spin doctors who will get away with blue murder. The times when meek will ingerit theearth seem still far away. But tera numbaer aayega baba aayega. Love you. Take care. and keep on inspiring me

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  4. Thanks for writing on this topic, Vikas. I loved how you have articulated the issue. It is so often we come across people who by ‘knowing it All’ shut the doors of continuous learning that could be theirs, if only they just sought perspectives and suggestions from others.

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    1. Yes Nishant and we have seen many in our lives. Unfortunately these folks are so full of themselves that they do not even see wha they are missing. And we HR folks have to spend time nursing their teams back to health. But life goes on… Amen

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  5. Cannot agree more with you Sir. Thanks for bringing this topic up, the most unfortunate part is that you come across more and more of people like these and unfortunately they are on the younger side who have so much more to learn and by doing so have closed doors to the learning process. The results are thus stress, unhealthy competition , unreasonable arguments, false dreams , wrong fundamental s , goalless approach to work and much more, which I am sure nor you nor my dad ever faced at work and thus loved your work. I was very fortunate to learn a lot from Dad and you and so many others that even today I am a humble student learning everyday. Excellent eye opening article Sir…

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    1. Hey Nikhil that is a very sweet thing to say. I am equally a student on the path. And continue to regale people with stories of the earthy wisdom of your father whom I was fortunate to work and learn with.
      Yes the younger generation does cause some fear as they do not realise how much more successful they could be if they were more open. But I am the optimistic sort. I feel into all lives some rain must fall and they will come around someday. we must have the patience.
      Take care and keep smiling at the Sun.

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  6. Interesting read, as always. We all have experienced the ‘know all’ person! However, if that person happens to be your boss…you are doomed at the work place. Always admired you for your mentoring to the team, though I never was a direct beneficiary!

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    1. Sadique miyan : my loss. I am sure you would have left some mark on me too. Learning is always mutual. Even from these difficult custmers we learn a lot. So I never understand the question: what would you do if you had to live your life again. My answer is I would make the same mistakes: but I would do them earlier faster bigger: – so that my learning ais faster and more. thanks for following me and taking interest in my ramblings. Khuda Hafeez

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  7. Very nice article and a very powerful message indeed!!! πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ
    The amount of knowledge in this world is infinite, and there’s only so much that we can accrue in our finite time here. Harping on what we already know (or rather, think that we already know) is like driving while looking in the rear-view mirror all the time…
    Keeping the eyes instead on the road ahead of all that’s unknown to us, and the mind open to take in as much as we possibly can is a wiser choice.
    Quoting the opening lines of Elton John’s “Circle of life” from my all-time favourite movie Lion King:
    “From the day we arrive on the planet,
    And blinking, step into the sun…
    There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen…
    … More to do than can ever be done.”

    Cheers!!! πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ

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    1. More to be seen and more to be done… true-er words were never said. There is so much more to discover and learn and so it is sad when people think they know it all. But possibly the joy of living is in the variety of people we meet and interact with. I had read somewhere that there must be a reason why the front windshield is so large and the rear view mirrors are so small in size by comparison. May we get the understanding to focus on the front view rather than be stuck in the past.

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  8. You have highlighted a character in a common workplace very beautifully. I agree that today’s workforce would struggle to work if such character becomes manager / department head. But that also gets us to another discussion : how patient are the millennials?
    Overall, good read. Do continue. Always a pleasure to hear hear you speak (and now read your blog).

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    1. Thanks Mayuram. Your question is good: patience is a virtue which is unfortunately going out of style in today’s fast paced world of I want it and I want it now.
      My writing will depend on friends like you giving me the feedback and encouraging me. Thanks for your support.

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  9. Your blogs are a culmination of your vast exposures to human kinds and minds, (pun intended ). It makes one introspect and deliberate on the right choice… Thanks for penning down!

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    1. Thanks Sir. However in all humility i must repeat Ulysses’ words that “all experience is an arch…”The more that I know the more I know that I do not know. That is what makes living so much fun

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  10. Nishant cant agree more. We all are colored by the same tar. We too fall into that valley often. Challenge is really not let it degenerate into a battle of egos. Life is a journey of learning and keeping an open mind; asking awesome questions; enjoying the road ahead will make us happier and help our teams to grow too.

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  11. Very interesting read Sir. But I feel that we can all be ‘know it alls’ on different occasions. Especially on the subjects that we feel confident about. So this is more of an internal lesson to keep the ‘know it all’ attitude at bay and understand that every conversation is not a battle of egos that you have to win.
    Keep writing!

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  12. In total agreement as you quoted, “successful bosses are facilitators who will ask the right questions and let the answers and ideas flow from the team. This empowers and energizes the team and enables them to give their best.”
    Have experienced this with my ex-boss :))

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    1. Hey Smita that is very sweet of you. Thanks for the compliment.
      As a boss I have always been lucky. I did not have to manage anyone. I just let people do what they wanted. And learnt to keep out of their way. And only thing I did was the “boundry management”.
      I remember I was once presented a poster : The speed of the Team is the speed of the Boss. That was in my first job. As I grew older I realised the opposite was more true. The speed of the boss is the speed of the team: The team makes or breaks a boss.
      Thank you Deepa Ritu Pravin and Smita for being there in my journey..

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  13. It real happens people super impose their subjantahu in the proseccess stunt growth of a person. Very well written.

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    1. Thanks Ashok. The loss of human potential is the saddest thing for an HR and a Psychology person to see. but unfortunately it is a reality in today’s times. the challenge is how to avoid this and stay on the fair side.

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  14. Love your blogs vikas, how you connect classic literature pieces with todays practical problems. This one is also a good trigger to introspect and not be tempted to become ” i know it all”

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    1. Ritu you know literature was my first love. Arguably still is. It was Eng Lit which first helped this introverted fool to “understand and appreciate” other people.
      If the blog helps people introspect and mirrors what we should stay away from I would have achieved my purpose.
      Take care

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  15. I like your blogs. They make one think about our
    interaction with others and how to approach to tackle our problems.

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    1. Thanks Kanubhai. Your words will motivate to stay on the course. I am enjoying myself writing. It is great to see it is also being valued by others whom I love and respect.

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  16. Brought out very well… unfortunately such people still exists in some corners. Such people need to be clearly identified and put out of circulation if they do not improve… we need leaders and coaches — not managers…

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    1. Suresh yes we indeed need leaders and coaches who are able to draw out their teams and let them succeed. The days of the manager who knows all the answers is behind us now. I think the first job of a true leader is to make himself redundant. And get out of the way when the team is on a roll. Gandhiji talked about Leader as a Trusteeship. Today Greenspan talks of Servant Leadership. The “tellers” have had their day. Now is the time for the sellers and the dream merchants.

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  17. Great read, absolutely true and something we all can relate to. I think one of the ways that has helped me handle these kind of people is by countering their know-it -all responses with truisms. Although its a little direct, it forces them to offer moderate, less overbearing responses.
    It is sad that these so called “smarty pants” fail to recognize the immense power of “listening” and “silence” in a conversation.
    Quoting one of my most favorite by Dalai Lama-
    “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”.

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    1. Deepa : so I will stay silent: listen and learn something new.

      You make a good point: listening and silence can be the strongest suits in a conversation. Unfortunately we have lost that art. Garrulous and loud is the name of the day: and that is the genesis of I know it all.
      How to handle these people could be a topic for tomorrow: we all have our own methods and it would be fun swapping notes.
      With this we should invite all who read this comment to share their own examples of how they handle the loudmouths. That would be a great compendium of strategies to help all of us who have to deal with such people.

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    1. Veena : well caught. That was the biggest point I was making. While it is easy to see the fault in others are we free of guilt? Let him cast the first stone who has not sinned. If we understand the virus and stay away from it we will win. Cheers!

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  18. Yes we do experience such narcissistic personality leaders who are so wrapped up in their own self value and self importance. Its a art to effectively work with them.

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    1. Pravin that is true. But the point I was also trying to make was that we ourselves must be saying I Know that sometimes to our teams. Can we at least stop and change that?

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  19. Very true Vikas you have articulated it except ionally well.the only way to handle such people is to politely give them feedback privately

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    1. Thanks Marcel for your kind words of appreciation. Yes these loud mouth bullies can only be handled discretely and in private as confronting them in public will only make them dig in their feet deeper.

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  20. I can equate the same with the people who always comment I told that.
    This is the second step of the people who always pass their comment , “I know that”.

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    1. Yes Girish that one is equally dangerous. They wait for you t make a mistake and say I had told this would happen. If we know the right road then it is incumbent on us to make that point loud and clear. After a decision is taken and we have moved on that path there is no point at all in saying I had told that.

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  21. Good one VikAs and true. My favourite in this light is the poem The Owl Critic, which is a subtle yet hilarious comment on this.

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    1. Had not read that. But now that I heard it I agree. Unfortunately we have many barbers who go on shaving. And equal no of critics who don”t know what is right and what is wrong.

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