Knowledge is an important competency. Look on any performance evaluation form, and knowledge will certainly be there in some way. What you know matters. After all, “knowledge is power,” as they say. With our desire to gain knowledge and demonstrate that knowledge, we can sometimes fall into the trap of believing we know all we need to know about a particular topic or issue, or at least, know more than the next person. And while it’s great to share your knowledge and offer your expertise, that strength played too strongly can have potentially negative consequences, such as being less open to other views, maintaining the status quo, dominating the conversation – or being seen as a know-it-all.
We don’t particularly care for know-it-alls. They are the colleagues who have an answer to every question, listen poorly, talk over everyone, and think the team would fail without them. If we don’t want to be seen as the office know-it-all, why do we often feel that we need to know it all to be successful? What if we looked at knowledge in a different way? I liked the suggestion of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who shared in a recent interview that he is creating a culture of “learn-it-alls,” a metaphor for having a growth mindset around your work, a desire and ability to seek knowledge, be curious, and find learning opportunities in many places.
As a leader, you have to model learn-it-all behavior if you want your team to develop those approaches. For those of us who pride ourselves on all the knowledge we have gained and want nothing more than to share that knowledge with others, we have to be just as dedicated to learning from others and discovery. There are a few actions I recommend for taming your inner know-it-all and nurturing the learner in you:
- Set learning goals – Think about where your knowledge growth areas are. What do you want to learn? What are you curious about? Think about skills that you want to build, or skills that you have neglected and want to nurture again. I have many clients who want to introduce creativity back into their lives, whether it be music, fine arts, writing, dance, or other creative endeavors. Last year I set a creativity goal for myself and have been taking pottery classes ever since. Not only is it relaxing, but it shifts my brain away from the things I need to do and absorbs me in the moment. In fact, current brain research debunks the whole left brain/right brain concept and instead explains that multiple regions come together to ignite and support creativity.
- Ask more than tell – Our know-it-all wants to give the answer, defend the position, pontificate, and take the floor. The more we are talking, the less we are hearing and experiencing, and the less we are hearing and experiencing the less we are learning. Asking questions, digging deeper, and engaging in dialogue are ways we can be a learn-it-all every day in any moment.
- Expand not only what you know (knowledge) but what you do (skills) – Thinking about the four stages of competence, assess your knowledge and your skills. Unconscious Incompetence are the things we don’t even know that we don’t know. Be open to learning to discover what those are for you. Conscious Incompetence are the things we know we don’t know and Conscious Competence are the things we are learning and practicing. These are the stages with the greatest learning, where we are growing and developing. And finally, Unconscious Competence are the things that have become so ingrained in our knowledge and skills that we do them effortlessly.
- Read – This one may see glaringly obvious, yet each year, along with exercising more, reading more is one of the top New Year’s resolutions. And, like most New Year’s resolutions, you can easily lose sight of those commitments and find yourself channel-surfing or perusing social media instead of reading (or listening to) books. Reading is one way to build your knowledge and master new skills. Commit to reading one book a month, join a book club, start a book club (even if there are only two members!), target specific subjects or authors you are curious about in order to increase the likelihood that you will read. And most important, block out regular reading time every day – during your commute, at lunch, before bedtime, on the elliptical, whatever works for you.
Knowledge is essential – and it is infinite. There is always more to know. Resisting the urge to show how much you know and instead having the confidence to reveal what you don’t will tame your inner know-it-all. Adopting a learn-it-all approach will open you up to new ideas, more opportunities, new cultures, and greater success.
What are you learning?
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