Precepting The Know-It-All

by: Beth Hawkes

Amanda is a new preceptor and she’s excited about helping to onboard a new nurse. But there is one thing Amanda is worried about- what if her resident turns out to be a “Know-it-All?”

One of the “types” every preceptor dreads being assigned is the Know-it-All orientee.

How to Recognize the Know-it-All

It’s easy to recognize a Know-it-All  because…they pretty much tell you right away. They repeatedly say things like “Where I came from….we did this-and-so in such-and-such a manner,” and they interrupt. They interrupt and nod impatiently when you are explaining something  to indicate that they already know what you are saying, and that you going too slow for their lightning-fast intellect.

They are not good listeners. They are thinking at a mile a minute. Typically they are not listening at all but are thinking about what they are going to say as soon as you draw a breath. Actually what they really want is to get away from you altogether and start independently practicing nursing! Because, remember, they know it all! Already. And don’t need you.

In their minds, they really don’t need orientation at all because they are superior and have exceeded all the requirements of a graduate nurse.

The Know-it-All is legitimately generally very smart, and very often is also right. When successful, these people go on to become managers and nursing leaders. At the same time, they are at risk for making errors. They do not know what they do not know and may feel entitled to take shortcuts or work outside of their scope of practice.

What the Know-it-All Needs

Acknowledgement from their preceptor. Their core identity is based on being the smart one. The Know-it-All has a driving need to be recognized as a smart person. Some Know-it-Alls are in their second career, and while new to nursing, are accustomed to being seen as an expert, accomplished individual. While all adult learners bring life experience to a new role and want recognition, the Know-it-All has a deeper need for recognition. As their preceptor, they may not listen until you have acknowledged them as a peer, as a subject matter expert, as a successful person. This is highly important to them.

They at once feel superior and insecure. Often they have an underlying insecurity and inside they feel less-than. Know-it-Alls keep people at a distance with their pointy-sharp intellect. Being superior is their shield and barrier.[icon name=”twitter” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] In nursing school, they may have established themselves as the smart one, but starting a new job triggers their insecurities anew.

As their preceptor, they may not listen until you have acknowledged them as a peer, as a subject matter expert, as a successful person[icon name=”twitter” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]

Know-it-Alls seek acknowledgement from their coworkers. As a newcomer to the facility, they want to make their mark and impress others. They have something to prove in every new social or job situation. Whenever they come into a new group, they are driven to establish themselves as the smart one. They want to feel respected by their peers, but can be condescending.

How to Manage the Know-it-All

Acknowledge their experience and expertise. With the Know-it-All, learning does not start until they are assured that you recognize them. Once the Know-it-All is validated, the issue can be put aside  and they can hear what you have to say. Provide the acknowledgment and the entire dynamics change. They will hear you and absorb what you have to say.

Minimize perceived threats to their self-esteem. Do not back them into a corner.

Pick your battles. Don’t take it personally when they are being what they are…a Know-it-All. [icon name=”twitter” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]

Verify your facts when dealing with the Know-it-All.  You are dealing with a person who can sniff out inconsistencies and once they’ve called your bluff, you’re no longer credible to them. If you are going to give information or direction, be accurate.

Let them know that others do not respond well to their style. Frame it as a help to them. “It would help you succeed here if you ask others for help.”

Ask questions rather than make suggestions.

Assign a challenging task such as researching an evidence-based nursing practice.

Maintain a collegial relationship and not a teacher-student relationship.

Rein them in. Memorize this sentence and use it frequently “This is how the organization expects us to do it here.”  Listen, then re-direct. Remind them, “Until you are signed off as competent, you cannot practice that task or procedure independently,” and don’t forget to use the phrase, “Thank you for that suggestion.”

They are not good at understanding the process of being signed off or validated, because in their minds, it is busy work.

Know-it-alls can go on to be resourceful, top performers. While a challenge on the front end, they can end up being top performers, with your wise  guidance.

Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth



Beth Hawkes

Beth Hawkes

StaffGarden Contributor

Author Nurse Beth, MSN, RN-BC,  is a Nursing Professional Development Specialist, and a well-known career advice columnist and writer. For more of Nurse Beth’s articles, visit


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