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posted: 3/30/2014 7:03 AM

Work Advice: A know-it-all who knows how he sounds

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Q: I'm in the fortunate position of being able to attempt to fix a problem. Some background: I am more intelligent than average (150+ IQ) and have lived the cliché of someone who gets bored easily and doesn't apply himself. This, plus the necessity of putting my wife through college after I dropped out, means I have been chronically underemployed.

A few years ago, I lucked into a complete change of scene, finished my degree with straight 4.0s and got a job with a real career track. A few people in upper management see my potential and want to help me get promoted, but I've got a few rough edges to smooth out. The largest is my delivery: matter-of-fact to the point of abruptness. I've had it all my life, and it's given me a reputation as a know-it-all.

I've done a lot of soul-searching and have polled my friends and family, who agree I can be condescending. Their advice boils down to "act dumber."

Now I've been given an opportunity to help train new employees, and management will be watching to see if I can do so without acting like a "glass bowl." I'm terrified that every time I have to correct someone, I'll cement my reputation and squander this opportunity. Any advice?

A: A glass bowl, maybe, but a reflective glass bowl. There's hope.

Know-it-alls know all the answers, but not when and how to share them. The smartest people I know let others be smart, too -- not by "acting dumber" but by being strategically generous.

They ask questions instead of spitting out answers: What do you think? Does anyone have a different idea? What if we tried this instead?

They recognize that everyone has a contribution: Great point, and I'd like to build on that by adding ... Let me defer to Eloise on that topic.

They dissent politely: I see where you're coming from, but I think ...

They acknowledge vulnerabilities: I sometimes struggle with expressing myself tactfully.

They apologize as needed: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be brusque.

They laugh at themselves: Whoops, I had a Sheldon Cooper moment there. Bazinga!

Some specific tips: Watch videos of your training sessions with a mentor who can identify when you veer into condescension. Consider professional analysis to learn what situations bring out your best and worst qualities, and why.

Finally, forget your IQ. These are the real signs you have potential: You acknowledge your rough edges, you excel when you apply yourself and you're "terrified" -- the best motivator of all.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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