• Resolving Problems

How to handle a know-it-all

Published: December 4, 2015 | By | 8 Replies Continue Reading
A reader asks for advice on handling a know-it-all in her new book club.


Hi Irene,

I recently joined a neighborhood book club that also meets for other social occasions. I’ve enjoyed the chance to reconnect with old neighbors and meet some new ones. However, one of the women who attends these functions is making me think twice about the group — or at least finding ways to avoid sitting next to her.

Every time I bring up a topic in conversation, whether it’s a favorite restaurant, vacation spot, or a cool place to shop, she overrides it or tops it with something better or cooler. She’s an expert on everything and knows everybody in town! I’m not a competitive or boastful person, and I have asked myself if I’ve done anything to bring out this annoying habit. (That said, I don’t think it’s just me.) In fact, I tend to clam up around one-uppers like this.

Any suggestions on how to deal with it?

Thank you, MaryAnne


Hi MaryAnne,

For whatever reason, it sounds like this know-it-all feels so insecure that she has to prove to herself (and to others) that she can top whatever you are talking about. It might not be what you say that is prompting this behavior – it might be they way you look, what she’s heard about you, or just that you are new to the group.

I would give this neighborhood book group, its associated social functions, and yourself more of a chance. I suspect that once this know-it-all woman gets to know you, she’ll feel less threatened and won’t be as fixated on one-upping you. If she makes these types of comments again, just ignore them. That should send her a message that her remarks are cutting off conversation. You are also correct in also distancing yourself from her physically, if possible, in terms of where you sit or where you stand.

If this behavior persists over time, it could poison the tenor of the group, especially if it is a leaderless group and no one is clear about who should intervene. Since you are sensitive to this, I know you’ll be extra-cautious about saying anything that might feed into her insecurities.

While unpleasant, I truly suspect that this problem will be temporary. I hope you’ll let us know how things go.

Best, Irene

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Comments (8)

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  1. lottie says:

    Just an idea. You could really play up to this know all. This is my suggestion.

    Instead of wanting to avoid her ,why not for a change seek her out by sitting next to her.Ask her questions.

    Start the conversation saying….Oh excuse me my name is Mary Anne you seem very knowledgeable about MOST things can you give me your opinion on this that or the other.Think of something to ask her.

    She will love you because you are inviting her onto her portable podium!Presuming she must have one in her bag where ever she goes. It must be worth a try.

    Like Irene says she probably is insecure,and might just be sussing you out.

    The next time you go say hello to her,be friendly then sit where you like.Feel sorry for her. Like Patty said she might not know she is doing it.

    Good luck and best wishes to all for Christmas. Lottie

  2. MaryAnne says:

    This is MaryAnn. Thank you for all of your great responses. It’s really helpful to read your suggestions and your caring comments. As good timing would have it, I attended a neighborhood holiday party last night and noticed this woman (the “know-it-all”) was there with her husband.

    I made a point of sitting next to her to get to know her a little better, since I already knew many of the others there. We had a one-on-one conversation as we sipped our drinks — and guess what? I now have a better understanding of her need to be admired and heard. Yes, I should have remembered that it takes time to get to know people and that first impressions aren’t always spot on.

    Also, I am very fortunate to have a group of people in my community, of many generations, who make time to get together in one another’s homes. I will keep reminding myself of that too.

  3. Jannie says:

    I agree with all comments above, I worked with a woman who did this and I just let her ramble and excused myself if I wanted away from her. This was easy at work. A book club a bit different, so sit somewhere else and even a different spot each week. This will help you mix with new people too. I think it’s a insecurity in people like this and there’s an old saying. If you give someone what they need, they don’t need it anymore…..hence even try asking her opinion on something once in awhile. Good luck!

  4. Tanja says:

    I had a friend like that as well. I agree with Irene. Once I got to know this friend, she does not do it anymore. She just felt insecure at the time. I think I may have done that as well. Or I joked with that friend after she said something to top me “Oh yeah….well…..well…I have a collection of 5 thousand hundred books” or something to that effect and she smiled and said “I did not mean it like that” and she let out a bit of a laugh. But, that does not happen anymore. She needed to feel safe and important as we all do. I would give it a chance still. Good luck.

  5. patty says:

    Trust me when I say other people notice her behavior and have experienced the same thing you are going through with her right now. Eventually someone will bring it up when she’s not there and all the stories will come out. Or, she will do it to someone else in your presence and you will see she actually has a self esteem problem and wants to be noticed among her peers. Let her do her thing and when she recognizes what she is doing she might even be embarrassed. In other words she probably might not realize she’s doing it.

  6. Amy F says:

    You can’t change her, you can only change your reaction to her. Ask yourself, why do her opinions bother you so much? What are they triggering in you? In any group, you many not like everyone and someone may very well push your buttons. It’s easy to focus on what someone else is doing wrong (in your opinion), but harder to look at yourself and figure out why you’re allowing her to bother you. Don’t talk about her to others. She was there first and you’re the newcomer.
    Good luck.

  7. Ben says:

    I had a friend like that from high school. I think Irene hit the nail on the head when she said it was about the other person’s insecurities. If this person turns you off can you imagine what it is like for that person? I wouldn’t want to be that person. I know you don’t either. There are people in my life I don’t want what they got either. I try and ignore bad behavior as much as possible and not lower myself to their level. Be grateful your not this person!!

  8. Virginia says:

    It may seem difficult at the time, but sometimes if you just let them think they know it all, she will soon find out just that she does not know it all. What the person did to me was change the subject as she was actually shouting at me, when we did that she was much more calm and would listen to me or even ask me a question. Good luck.

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