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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


April 26th, 2018

Know-it-all’s make people feel that they are wrong. The know-it-all makes it very plain and obvious that other person’s mental map of the world is inaccurate. 

But the know-it-all is just trying to be helpful.

Trying to be helpful, but failing to help.


Not only does feedback imply that a person’s mental map is inaccurate but it also implies the need for further action to rectify the map. This requires subduing an emotional tie to our own grandiosity and certainty. Subduing the fact that we think we know what we know AND combating laziness that keeps us from taking the next action. This is heavy leg-work. Not easily undertaken. Especially if the emotional environment is one of defensiveness and uncomfortable vulnerability. 

How does the know-it-all come to be the know-it-all? Questions. The know-it-all is curious and asks questions. But when the know-it-all looks to share knowledge, the know-it-all forgets that the acquisition of such knowledge started with a questioning. Without a similar questioning in another person, such proffered knowledge can easily come across as offensive, annoying and even belittling. The know-it-all must foster questions, not simply deluge info.

The next time someone says something inaccurate. Can we pause before we try to correct someone?

Can we challenge ourselves with some questions:

What sort of question can I ask to help this person examine their own thoughts on the subject?

Is there a question I can ask that will help them get at the core of their feelings on the subject?

Perhaps what they find might be illuminating in an unexpected way?

Might that way be more welcoming to new information?

Then again, new information might not even be needed.

Questioning is a self-starting journey.

People are smarter and better than we give them credit for.

Often all they need is a better question. A better question to help them probe a subject on their own.

A natural defensive reaction to a show-off, holier-than-thou, know-it-all, definitely doesn't help someone on this journey. In fact it nearly guarantees that someone won't go on the curious journey that is needed.

{This is the reason for the "Backfire Effect" in psychology. The Backfire Effect is when people who are confronted with facts that directly contradict their beliefs become more certain of their original beliefs instead of becoming skeptical of their own accuracy. Logic would hold that facts contrary to beliefs would mean that the beliefs are somehow flawed and therefore must be improved or removed altogether. But this is not what happens. The emotional strain of coming across new information that implies a failure on our part shuts down a welcoming attitude in normal people.}

Can we start a culture of questions?

Can we challenge ourselves to find better questions?

Periwinkles are small marine snails. Any sudden movement will make that sucker clam up fast.

Any beach loving kid knows that you can’t force a periwinkle open. That’ll just kill it.

Those beach loving kids also know how to get a periwinkle to open up:

Patience and singing. 

Might the change that we are looking to make in others be like our periwinkle? 

Elusive and easily startled?

Might it be better to first help someone feel comfortable?

Might our message be aided by a comfortable and curious ear?

Confrontation creates defense. 

Defense is another way of saying fear.

Fear is the killer of curiosity.


Might a blunt message create confrontation? 

Might a confrontation create a defensive posture? 

Might the fear behind that defensive posture kill the very curiosity we need for our message to succeed?

Might the know-it-all in all of us be aided by a thoughtful pause and a kind and generous consideration of the people we wish to help by correcting? 

The intention is to help. 

But have we examined the way we try to help?

Can our good intention be honored by a more thoughtful method?

Has the alternative ever really worked anyway?

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 11: The Failed Dance of the Know-It-All and the Periwinkle

Tinkered Thinking

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