Know-It-Alls Anonymous: Choosing When to Advise and When to Support

Last updated: June 2018

My name is Kim Dolce, and I’m a know-it-all.

My first time at the podium was tough. I had to admit I’m a KIA (know-it-all), but now that I’ve owned it, I’m on my way to becoming a kinder, softer person. Know-it-alls Anonymous (KA) meetings are getting easier every week.

Know-it-all that I am, I knew I’d feel better if I 'fessed up, but I didn’t broadcast it ahead of time. See? I’m already making progress.

And, I’m not alone.

Know-it-alls are everywhere

We see it every day on social media:

Post: I woke up with bad lower back pain.

Response: You should exercise more.

Response: You should drink more water.

Response: You probably have an arthritic lumbar spine. See a doctor.

Response: Sounds like cancer. You’re a dead man walking.

Seeking compassion

It’s likely that poor poster just wanted some sympathy. I’m so sorry. Hope you feel better soon. Why are people prescriptive rather than compassionate?

Is it an outgrowth of the Information Age? Are we too immersed in knowledge to make an emotional connection?

I doubt things were much different before the Guttenberg bible was published. Before literacy became the norm. Before doctors shared medical info with patients. In situations old and new, voicing a complaint could bring you plenty of trouble. If you ask for help at your job, you risk being judged as incompetent. Or, in an earlier era, Joan of Arc told the Bishop of Beauvais that God willed her to fight at the French king’s side at the Siege of Orleáns — and he had her burned at the stake for heresy.

The moral of the story? Too much sharing can be dangerous to your livelihood, not to mention your health. Best to fly under the radar.

Types of reactions to sharing

But we are a sharing species. Disease forums were designed for, among other things, self-pitying rants. In this post-industrial, post-information, post -humanities age, we cherry-pick our confessions hoping for a reassuring pat on the head — and we never see it coming: unsolicited advice; rebukes; blaming; shaming. Yet, there are emojis fit for every kind of reassuring sentiment. A crying face. A blushing smiley face. A red, angry face. And I’ve noticed that posts full of compassion tend to include more emojis than those other prescriptive, more instructional responses. Know-it-alls push away sentiment. Mind you, not everybody reacts in these ways. Sadly, though, rebukes tend to carry more weight than kindnesses. Recipients of this aggression limp away from the battlefield as bloodied and broken as Joan of Arc after sword fighting with the English.

How to avoid being a know-it-all

How to remedy this bad habit of I-know-better? Er--I don’t know. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to write that? I—don’t—know. I’m breaking into a cold sweat just rereading those three words. Wow. I’ll have to report that to the group at my next KA meeting.

If I logged how many times I start a sentence with ‘you should,’ I’d probably shock myself.

So how can I make better decisions about when to advise and when to support?

  1. Look at the content of the post and respond to its literal meaning.
  2. Examine other moderators’ responses, find my role models, and emulate them.

Reading to understand and support

A poster’s comment usually telegraphs their need. A simple declarative sentence doesn’t invite advice.

Post: I’ve been waking up with groin pain lately. Anybody else have this?

Analysis: Commenter just wants to know if they’re alone with this. Requires a yes or no, and possibly a sympathetic word.

But we can apply this to our interactions with coworkers, family and friends, too. It’s all about listening skills. Listening sympathetically, not waiting for them to stop talking so we can recite what we know about it.

Such a simple concept.

I shoulda known!

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