I’m a docent at a botanical garden and lead a monthly walk, preceded by a 15-minute
talk about the plants, indigenous peoples or other relevant topics. Training to
be a docent is a rigorous, 10-week, in-depth program, complete with a thick binder
of information. The training concludes with a difficult written and walking test.
A man, Brian, attended a recent talk and walk. He proceeded to contradict and “correct” me and another docent. For instance, among other things, he told me I had my dates wrong regarding when the area was inhabited by Native Americans. I sited my source and reiterated the information. The other docent submitted a report that mentioned, “Visitor (Brian) contradicted me at every turn, about nature, news, pronunciations…”
If Brian, or someone like him, shows up again, how would you handle a person like that?
-Dealing With a Know-it-All
Dear Dealing with a Know-it-All:
When I come across a know-it-all, I remind myself it’s usually because of one of
- They have little, if any, emotional intelligence and may even suffer from some form of personality disorder – perhaps narcissism, Asperger’s syndrome, etc.
- The individual’s experiences (most likely during formative years) left them believing that if they aren’t right or accurate, somehow they’re not worthy. This allows me to find patience and compassion as I realize they crave validation.
They have little, if any, emotional intelligence and may even suffer from some form of personality disorder – perhaps narcissism, Asperger’s syndrome, etc.
Either way, I can appreciate that Brian is a challenge on the walk. Perhaps he really would like to be a volunteer himself.
Two options exist depending on whether you want to address him during or post walk. The goal always is to stick with observable facts and ask for behaviors you would like to see next time.
Scenario one: Brian starts challenging a volunteer’s information DURING the walk. You did the right thing by simply reiterating your information/position. “Mmm…that’s interesting. As I mentioned, the evidence says … according to (site your source).”
If Brian speaks up and challenges you right after you’ve said the above, I would respond:
“Perhaps your comments are better addressed to the source directly” (or whoever would be able to “show” him the information). If he keeps going, “I can see you’re passionate about your subject, and I’m going to ask that rather than disagree with my research, you allow me to share the information that (source) has deemed accurate.”
Scenario two: Docent says nothing during the walk, so after the walk pulls Brian aside:
“I want to chat with you about something. It’s quite obvious you’re very passionate with regard to the history in this area, as well as possessing extensive knowledge specific to (nature). Perhaps you’re not aware, but during the walk today you spoke up (X number of times) to correct me on my information and even my pronunciations. I’m sure you meant well, and I would appreciate you speaking to me about these topics one-on-one following, rather than during, the walks. Is this something you’re willing to do?”
Hope this helps! Remember, your tone of voice and facial expressions are equally as important as the words you choose.