How to coach a problem employee: The know-it-all

Help arrogant employees learn to listen.
By Matthew Philpott

Self-confidence is a valuable trait in the workplace, but, in some employees, self-confidence manifests itself as arrogance. If employees act as if they know better than anyone else, shooting down others' ideas or stealing the spotlight at meetings, morale can suffer.

Know-it-all team members can sometimes stifle innovation. As Matthew Morey, CPA, CGMA, a senior staff regulatory analyst at Entergy in New Orleans, pointed out, their attitudes and actions might make their coworkers reluctant to offer opinions. "Someone could have a really good idea, and you'd miss out on an opportunity to make something easier to do or more efficient," he said.

Though they may appear self-assured, arrogant employees are often insecure deep down. "This is someone struggling to say they don't know," said Jessica Iennarella, CPA, CFF, supervisor at HSNO in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their pushy behavior, she said, can lead others to avoid them: "The rest of the team can isolate that person because they don't want to be constantly one-upped."

However, there are ways to get know-it-all employees to recognize the effects of their behavior. If you're faced with managing an employee whose arrogant ways are becoming a problem, here are some tactics to try:

Face the problem head-on. When dealing with an employee who is used to getting in the last word, sometimes correcting their behavior comes down to getting your point across loud and clear. "Explain in the specific context of the job why the behavior is a problem," said Iennarella, a 2016 graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy.

You can also try pushing back on their claims. "Don't be afraid to challenge this employee's assertions," said Atlanta-based career coach and author Hallie Crawford. "Ask them where they got their information and if they have proven data for what they say is the best way to do something."

Be sure to do so in a tactful way, she added. "While you don't want to shame the employee, gently asking for more details can help them to realize that they may not actually have all the facts," she said.

Make sure your course-correction stays constructive. Iennarella recommended keeping the emphasis on your goal — trying to help your employee improve and your team function better — during such conversations.

Put them in the driver's seat. Sometimes reversing roles can be helpful. Morey suggests having a know-it-all employee moderate a brainstorming session. Insist that they focus on keeping the session running smoothly, rather than contributing ideas of their own, he said. This tactic may help them to see how much their coworkers have to contribute, and how listening and collaborating may lead to a better outcome.

Use their confidence to your advantage. In some ways, it can be helpful to have someone around with a surplus of confidence, particularly if it's confidence in their team.

Such employees "are very good at proving their position. They're very strong-willed," Morey, a 2016 graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy, said. "If we have a project we're trying to pitch to upper management, this person would be great at it. There's a certain level of salesmanship and confidence that comes from the know-it-all."

"The tough part," he added, "is making sure that person isn't so much of a know-it-all, but a person who can utilize the whole team."

Matthew Philpott is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at

Where to find May’s flipbook issue

The Journal of Accountancy is now completely digital. 





Leases standard: Tackling implementation — and beyond

The new accounting standard provides greater transparency but requires wide-ranging data gathering. Learn more by downloading this comprehensive report.