Days of Wine and Leftovers

How to be polite to people who aren't

Since avoiding her altogether is not possible, how should I handle a know-it-all who isn't credible and has on occasion led others astray?

Frustrated in San Francisco

Dear Frustrated Madam or Sir,

The know-it-all is an annoying conversation partner – and I'm sure the co-worker you describe can vouch for this as well as you can.

Of course, you have the facts and she doesn't, apparently, and this makes her doubly irritating to you. I wonder, though, why you feel the need to correct her at all, especially if you're discussing, as you say, a matter of opinion. If she's argumentative about issues related to your job, you could discuss the matter with a supervisor. But if she simply won't be swayed from her belief that the Finnish government has established secret colonies on Mars or that Liza Minnelli has never won a Tony Award, well, why waste your breath? It's a fact – and a terrible pity – that many people just can't disagree without unpleasantness.

You know that what this woman says may not be factual. And although your protective instinct is noble, you'll have to let other grown-ups reach that conclusion for themselves. Beyond saying, "Is that really true? I've never heard anything like that before," or, "Perhaps you're mistaken? I'm a big fan, and I'm certain she won one for The Act, at least," I'd suggest agreeing to disagree with her on such topics. If your colleague becomes unpleasant when you try to discuss a matter in detail, limit your conversation with her – at least to topics you agree on.

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