What To Do When People Don’t Know What They’re Talking About
Today’s post is a continuation from the last one, and it’s about what you can do when people are talking but they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s a common behavior. For the most part, it has innocent roots. In my training program and coaching work on Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, I use the label ‘Think-They-Know-It-All’ as shorthand for a person demonstrating this trait or behavior. Where the Know It All actually knows a lot, the Think They Know It All knows just enough to be dangerous.
Because I know that so many people who don’t know but think they do are just doing what people so often do, my first advice in dealing with them, whether it’s their chronic behavior or it’s become acutely unpleasant, is to do what may seem unthinkable to you at the time.
Give them a break.
If you ever find yourself dealing with a person who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, try this. Give them the benefit of the doubt. The way you do it is you make excuses for them. “I guess you didn’t see the research that came out on this last month,” or “You were probably busy with something else when they studied this and drew a very different conclusion.” or “You may be as surprised as I was to find out that (that) turns out not to be exactly what happened.” Instead of contradicting them straight out, invent a reason for their not knowing what you know. They were busy. They must not have seen. Nobody must have told them. This just came in. Something. Anything. Helping them save face helps them face the facts that you’re about to give them. Giving them an alternative to having to defend themselves keeps them from becoming defensive.
Tell it like it is
If you have data and sources, put it out there. As my instructors in school used to say, ‘Show me your sources.’ Or as my grandfather might put it, “So where is it written?” The nice thing about providing evidence is that, even if people don’t follow up to check it out, it adds authority and credibility to what you have to say. Of course, a person may disagree with your source, but that’s a deeper level of conversation, and at least reality is a way in.
Use Junk O’ Logic
Don’t know your source but know there is one? Dealing with someone who is intractably determined to keep their foot in their mouth? Another great escape that you can utilize to great effect is the old advertising principle of Junk O’ Logic. This is an advertising principle discovered in the 1950’s, that says you can give most people two unrelated ideas as if they are one idea, and if you congruently present them as if they are one idea, people are usually inclined to make sense of it. This principle has been used to great effect in cigarette, beer and auto advertising, and just about everything else besides. Turn on the TV, open a magazine, look at a billboard, and chances are you’ll be seeing an image that has nothing to do with the product.
How do you use this? Simply take the errant information and hook it together with your information, and act like they are somehow related. This creates a sense of confusion, sends the person on a trans-derivational search for meaning that will keep them occupied long enough to stop pressing ahead on a road to nowhere.
“Thanks for bringing that up! You reminded me of an article I read in which…(and provide the new information)”
If your data is compelling, or you sound more authoritative, the person may realize they are out of their information league, and will take the life saver you’ve thrown them.
This works because when people don’t know what they’re talking about, they are less likely to be attached to it. That’s not always true, particularly in matters of politics and religion. But in most other areas, it gives you and them a way away from what isn’t so to something that is. Give people a way to go along with you, chances are they will jump on your bandwagon.
This approach has long-range ramifications too. If people learn through time and consistency that you do know what you are talking about, they will be less inclined to challenge you.
I think I’d like to hear what you think. Comments? Stories? Feedback?