Posts tagged: Jerk

Why The World Despises Know-It-Alls

smartIt’s been five years since we started production on the Recognized Expert Marketing Show. Almost 200 programs later, I’ve had a chance to step back and reflect upon my relationships with the marketing, sales and self-promotion experts who have appeared on the show.

Most of my guests have become my friends, and I’ve grown to respect and admire them for their knowledge, their kindness and their willingness to share their expertise with my listening audience. This was true with all but one of my guests. He is someone I will never forget, and not for the right reasons.

The Recognized Expert

Once you become the recognized expert in your field you have to be careful not to fall into the know-it-all trap, and that can be difficult to do.  People will treat you differently. They will say nice things about you and ask for your opinion and maybe your autograph. The media will start writing articles about you and you’ll be asked to speak at seminars and conventions. Your income will rise and you’ll find yourself in the limelight more often than not. You’re a celebrity.

Some people handle this position with dignity and grace while others take on a know-it-all posture that causes their conversation partners to recoil and strike at each opportunity.


Wikipedia defines the term Know-it-all as follows:

A Know-it-all is an epithet applied to any person who exhibits the belief that he or she possesses a superior intellect and wealth of knowledge, and shows a determination to demonstrate his perceived superiority at every opportunity.

And don’t you love how the author used the word, “epithet” in the definition? If you know the definition to that word, give yourself a pat on the back. But I digress. Let’s move on.

There are three reasons we don’t like know-it-alls and they all have to do with different aspects of likeability.


To start, we like people who make us feel smart and we don’t like people who make us feel stupid. And yes, there are cruel people in this world who try to make others feel stupid, but that’s not the intent of most know-it-alls. These people are more concerned with trying to impress others by showing off what they know.

Problem is, in doing so they are inadvertently shutting others out by moving into a preaching mode (I speak, you listen.) This method of communication is fine in the classroom, but it’s a problem everywhere else.


handThe second reason we have a hard time with know-it-alls is because we like ourselves more when we enhanced the lives of others. Know-it-alls don’t give us that opportunity. They seldom allow us to share our thoughts and opinions and when we do, they either ignore us or they disagree with us.

Very few people want to be involved in a relationship where they can’t contribute and don’t feel appreciated when they do.


The third reason we don’t like know-it-alls is because we like people who don’t take themselves too seriously, and we feel uncomfortable around people who do. Know-it-alls are seldom wrong, but when they are wrong, their brain goes into lock-down. They are so invested in being right, that they don’t know how to handle a situation where they think they look stupid. The last thing they’ll do is laugh at themselves, which is the best thing they can do to endear themselves to others.

It’s also true that we are attracted to smart people. But, like all of the laws of likeability, you can take your smarts too far. Being perceived as smart is attractive to others, being perceived as a know-it-all is not.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Bill Federer is the author of the American Minute, a short American historical event that he broadcasts to millions of people over the radio and on the Internet every day. Today, Bill sent me a story about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Oliver was born on, March 8, 1841. He was a Union soldier during the Civil War and he went on to become a Harvard Law School Professor. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served to a more advanced age than any other justice.  On his 90th birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., replied to a reporter by saying:

“Young man, the secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered I was not God.”

Boy, what a valuable lesson my pompous guest could have learned from Mr. Holmes.

Competing with God


If you find yourself competing with God, stop. Ask yourself what it is you really want to accomplish. Do you want to be a know-it-all and have your listeners relish in your fall, or do you want to attract people who want to associate with you because you’re an interesting conversationalist?

And, if you’re wondering which of the 200 guests made such a bad impression on me, you won’t find his interview on the Recognized Expert Marketing Show. I either accidentally lost the program or intentionally erased it with glee. Maybe I should ask him what happened to the show. I’m sure he knows.

Don’t Be A Jerk


Dynamic Training Institute of Atlanta

My second job, after being asked to find another career from my first employer, was working for a personal development company in Atlanta on 100% commission.

The man who hired me, Jim McKey, was the owner of Dynamic Training Institute and a fantastic speaker and trainer. My job was to help him build his business by selling his services, and in return he promised to teach me how to become an effective and entertaining speaker. Our relationship was completely symbiotic and I could not have designed a better job for myself.

You’re Hired

After our initial interview, Jim suggested I come to his public speaking workshop that evening. He was going to talk about how to deal with difficult participants and indicated that he could use my help. He also assured me that I would learn one of the most valuable lessons every public speaker should know, and he guaranteed that I would remember this experience for the rest of my life.


I arrived early that night to help Jim set up the room and find out how I could help him with his presentation. He told me that the best way to teach someone how to deal with a difficult participant in the audience was to show them how it was done. With that, he asked if I would stand up about 15 minutes into his presentation and yell out, “This is a waste of my time. When are you going to teach me something I don’t already know?”

“OK. I can do that.” I told him.

Just as promised, I stood up and interrupted Jim’s presentation doing exactly what he asked me to do. The room fell silent. Everyone looked at me as if I was the biggest jerk on the planet. Before Jim said a word, one of the participants yelled out, “Sit down.”  “Who do you think you are?” “If you’ve got something to say you rude SOB, save it for the parking lot.”

I was uncomfortable and scared, but I promised Jim that I would keep up the act until he had an opportunity to demonstrate what he wanted to teach, which he did masterfully.

Not only did I learn (along with the rest of the audience) how to handle a difficult participant, but I saw first hand how quickly and aggressively a crowd can turn against an individual if he or she attacks someone they like. The audience was willing to defend Jim because they liked him and they were ready to fight me because I affronted their friend.


Stop The Pain!

The instant we concluded the exercise I begged Jim to explain to the audience what he had asked me to do. I couldn’t handle the feeling that so many people hated me and some even wanted to harm me physically.

As I recall, the conversation whet something like this.

Bob: “Jim, please tell the audience that you asked me to stand up and be a jerk so that you could demonstrate how to handle a difficult participant.”

Jim: “I’m sorry Bob, I don’t know what you’re talking about 🙂

Audience: Uncomfortable laughter.

Bob: “OMG!”

Jim: “I’m teasing. Ladies and gentlemen, I did asked Bob to stand up and interrupt me so that I could show you how to handle a difficult participant, however, I had no idea he would be so good at it.”

Audience: Laughter.

Jim: “There are three things I want you to remember from this exercise, and I doubt if Bob will ever forget them. If you have a difficult or rude person in your audience.

  1. Never be rude back.
  2. Let the audience handle them for you.
  3. Promise to talk to them about their issue one-on-one after the program and make this promise in front of the entire audience.

The key to effectively handling a difficult participant is to demonstrate to them and to the audience that you are more likable than the difficult participant. The more likable you are in comparison, the more aggressively the audience will defend you.”

Jim was a fantastic teacher and professional speaker, and I will never forget what he taught me about likability.


  1. If Jim McKey asks you to volunteer for anything, tell him “No!” 🙂
  2. If you’re the most likable person in the room, the audience will always fight for you. If you’re a jerk, ask the police to escort you to your car.


If you’re really interested in learning how to deal with a difficult participant, listen to my audio program on

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