how can I stop showing off at work?

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk to a guest who struggles with wanting to show off at work – and she’s trying to figure out why, and how to keep it under control.

You can listen to our discussion above or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Volumes, or Anchor (or here’s the direct RSS feed).

This episode is 17 minutes long, and here’s the letter:

I have a question about how to change a strong urge I have to “show what I know” at work. For some background, I am 32 years old and have been working in a professional setting since I was 16. I have held many positions from dishwasher to lobbyist and from school teacher to public contract administration. I hold a terminal degree and consider myself of average intelligence for the industries in which I work. I work very hard, am very productive, and produce good outputs.

For as long as I can remember, it has been a struggle not to squeal with excitement when someone in a meeting brings up something I know well, someone I know or knew professionally, or generally show off that I have a skill or a piece of information. Sometimes a colleague will bring something up that I want to desperately comment on but it wouldn’t be appropriate in the time and place and I almost can’t take in anymore information because I’m trying to stop myself from shouting, “I know about that! I know about that!” I even recognize when others do it and silently roll my eyes. I appreciate when others show what they know in a natural way, not in the contrived way I often want to do it.

My question is, is this common? How can I get myself to relax and trust that others know or will find out on their own that I’m smart and capable without showing off?

And if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 134 comments… read them below }

    1. prupugad*

      Yep! I worked with someone who had this problem. It was so frustrating in meetings where someone would ask “Joe, what are your thoughts on blah?” because we needed to find out Joe’s thoughts specifically & Fred would jump in with his thoughts, sometimes completely missing the details we’d hoped to get from Joe. It got to the point where meetings were just a waste of time & we’d have to quietly seek out Joe or whoever to ask our questions.

    2. Specialk9*

      I SO identify with this OP! It was this moment of revelation that the people I most appreciated and respected intellectually and socially were fairly low key, and were not trying to show off all the time. I now have a specific person I channel at work who is calm, listens to others closely, and is lowkey. I mostly manage to keep to attention-seeky thing under wraps.

      I also do this channeling socially. (As a kid I had the laughable belief that people liked you if you proved how smart and awesome you were – when really people want you to hear, like, and respect them. In short, admire rather than seek admiration.) Especially in a group, I make a habit of actually listening and asking follow up questions, instead of just waiting impatiently to get to talk. You can see people feel heard and valued when you do that, which feels really cool.

      I guess at the end of the day, it’s turning that external seeking-approval need into something kind and nurturing instead. Sort of taking care of people who feel out of place and unheard, rather than being a gaping maw. It somehow fills that same spot, to give what you most want. (YMMV)

      1. Mookie*

        As a kid I had the laughable belief that people liked you if you proved how smart and awesome you were – when really people want you to hear, like, and respect them. In short, admire rather than seek admiration

        I had the same delusion. Turns out, being smart and awesome is, in fact, great but it rarely tracks with being a braggart uninterested in other people’s ideas. It’s a tough lesson.

  1. Dust Bunny*

    Were you like this in school, too? Do you have outside activities in which you find you need a lot of attention, or that you do possibly in part because they get you extra attention? Are you a middle child out of a zillion kids??

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah it’s sad to grow up and realize that the strategies that worked for you as a young student don’t always carry over into the professional arena!

    2. Original Podcast-Asker*

      Hi Dust Bunny!

      I’ve really always been like this though I don’t know that it stems so much from wanting or needing attention as it is a sort of tick that I need to satisfy for my own benefit. The reason I am so confused by the urge myself is that I actually do not want recognition and sort of crumple when faced with praise or reward. It is an odd thing for sure and I know it can’t possibly help my image to continue doing this.

      I’m the youngest and am also the only daughter so I’m not sure my birth order will help! Thanks so much for your thoughts.

      1. Alter_ego*

        I’m like this too, and for me, it’s because of a deep seated need to provide value. I imagine it’s due to insecurity on my part, but I *need* to feel like I can be of use to people, otherwise why would they keep me around.

        Socially, it means I offer lots of rides, I’m always the designated driver, and I bake a TON. At work, it means I have to work hard to restrain my urge to chime in on every little thing. I’m not trying to show off, just show that there are things about me that keep me worth having around.

        1. Justin*

          Same feeling here, manifested in different ways. Thankfully growing out of the whole “must take on all things” aspect, though still less than secure about my value.

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          This is really close to what I see in myself. I always felt like the only thing I had to offer was intelligence. I was always the smart one – not the pretty one or talented one or athletic one. I still find that I want to be sure that people realize there is a reason to keep me around so I really have to work at pulling back on offering unsolicited input.

          For me, it’s totally insecurity based (they won’t need/want me if I don’t have all the answers), and definitely not from wanting attention. I hate being the center of attention – too much of a chance I’ll look “stupid” and ruin the only reason people keep me around (factually I know this isn’t accurate, but it’s a hard thing to break out of).

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            That’s funny, I didn’t know I had apparently posted under a different name!

            Seriously, this is exactly me.

          2. Shamy*

            This is so fascinating to me how it manifests differently in people. I am a woman that people have always tended to focus on my looks. For years, I doubted my intelligence because it was never something that was really acknowledged. Now, years later, I recognize I am an intelligent person and often feel the need to show I am more than just my looks. It is such a tough thing to rein in.

        3. Positive Reframer*

          I do a lot of chiming in, for me its less about providing value and more about connecting with people. The whole making friends things continues to elude me, information exchange is my way to connect with people. Sometimes I joke that my love language is research.

          Maybe also a little bit about proving my competence.

          I also feel uncomfortable receiving praise (particularly face-to-face, also handing people gifts).

          Growing up (as an oldest girl FWIW) “know-it-all” was a fairly common thing to hear about myself, I’m sure it goes through people’s heads even now. When I hear people talking, or I’m in a meeting and I want to share something its like the words start buzzing around inside me and my whole body gets tense and fidgety. Before I go into something where I know I’ll be tempted to take over the conversation or contribute too much I’ll make some sort of rule for myself. Like I’m only aloud to hold the floor three times, I have to wait X amount of comments from others before speaking again.

          1. Anonymoose*

            I also said the ‘connecting’ thing too! Wow, we on this sub-thread should start our own reddit group.

          2. Lissa*

            I make similar rules for myself about when to speak up! I did this after sitting and observing meetings and cringing really hard at people who did things i know i do myself!!

          3. Sal*

            Wow I just realized while reading your comment that I feel uncomfortable handing people gifts too! I have no idea why. I do remember as a kid always feeling awkward offering to pay my own way (for dinner or whatever) when I was out with a friend’s family. It was at the age where the family pretty much always paid but it was nice to offer but I always felt weird about it, even though I WANTED to. And even now, if I go out on, say, a friend’s boat, I always give someone gas money but it still makes me uncomfortable.

          4. Mookie*

            The way I handle this compulsion, when somebody says something awesome and I’d love to expand on it and demonstrate I know this awesome thing, too, is to just nod and validate them (eg “great comment”). Let them know I appreciate and I’m interested in them rather than just the thing.

        4. RG*

          Are you me? Realized last summer that somewhere along the way “be a friend to make a friend” got internalized as “provide value so people will want you to be around.”

        5. Anonymoose*

          LOL I just said that below (about providing value). Glad I’m not the only know it all with good intentions! :)

        6. Geillis D*

          Ouch. You hit the nail right on the head – your words really resonate with me. Thank you for those.

      2. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

        OP, I do this too. I always have to prove that I’m smart. I’m actually working with a therapist on this right now because I don’t like this aspect of me. One of the things she had me do was a values exercise where I came up with say 8 or so core values that speak to me. One of them was intelligence. Then we dug into how I express that value and whether or not it was lining up with how I wanted to express that value. It’s been a powerful tool to make me pause and reflect on “is this how I want to express a core value” and if not, to take a step back and figure out how I could better exemplify that core value. It doesn’t change the world, but it forces me to stop before I dive too deep into the “I KNOW THIS!” world.

        It’s not perfect (nor am I) and I did this “I know this!” thing at a board meeting last week and was embarrassed about it, but now I understand why it’s embarrassing and how to take a breath the next time.

        1. A Beth*

          Thanks for this comment, I think it will be so helpful for me — what are my core values and how do I express them, and how do I want to express them? I am excited to dive into this!

      3. Anonymoose*

        I have this too. I’ve done a lot of reflection over recent years (I’m now 38). For me it was two-fold. One, I’m an info junkie and love helping people. I’m a natural teacher. When someone brings something up, it’s basically a hard wired instinct to want to help. This isn’t a bad thing, but we need to practice listening vs speaking. A lot of times, people don’t want help. This is just a fact. Also, a situation can change the more info you get from them about what they’re talking about. You won’t know that they’ve already tried X, Y, Z until they’ve told you. So it’s about patience to let *them* go through the process until they can ask for input.

        Second, and more importantly, it’s about connecting with people. I don’t know about you but as a kid I was pretty hyper and spoke constantly. I am diagnosed ADHD. Most female ADHD are gifted with gab. As I got older, this actually turned into social anxiety and the only way I was able to ‘connect’ with people was by proving that I had some sort of value to them, eg my uber-tank of info that I hold onto.

        Again, you just have to work on patience and minimize the urge to care so much. It sounds mean, but it will help both parties in the long run. We want to help, we try to take ownership, because we care. Pull back on that urge a bit and you’ll find you have more patience until you’re asked for input. :)

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Reading this makes me wonder if I should ask my doctor to evaluate me for ADHD because so much of it sounds really familiar.

        2. Specialk9*

          That bit you said about being a natural teacher is big for me too. I also have the showing off and wanting approval thing, but there is also a wanting to help and teach something cool, which has a really different motivation.

      4. College Career Counselor*

        I get where you’re coming from, because, man, do I love to participate and show what I know. However, you’ll have diminishing returns if you hog the spotlight (as you already are aware). Three questions (taken from a different context) that may be useful to you in holding back your impulse:

        “Does this need to be said?”
        “Does this need to be said NOW?”
        “Does this need to be said by me?”

        You may need to train yourself to wait out that initial itch to respond with what you know and maybe your added value is in refining the thing as it moves forward? Not sure that’s helpful, but I am a fellow-struggler (probably exacerbated by the role I have with students), and this is what I tell myself sometimes!

        1. Specialk9*

          That was the most impactful standup comedy I’ve ever seen. I think about those 3 questions a lot.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I try to make myself wait–to see if someone else will be the one to say it. Especially at work, bcs so many of my colleagues have a similar background and set of responsibilities.

          And I frame it in my mine as “making room for other people”–that helps me be patient.

      5. CML*

        I am very similar. And it’s so nice to hear others struggle with this too. I’m two years older than you but female, youngest, and only daughter. My personality doesn’t lend well to this struggle – I’m an introvert – so it’s against my nature to chime in but I often feel overlooked when I know I have something to contribute. Not because “I’m so important and I know everything” but because the common way-of-the-world is for extroverts to chime in and introverts to fade away and therefore I find myself inserting comments to feel heard.

    3. Anon For This*

      I don’t think it’s always an attention thing. I think some people just feel more comfortable being in a leadership role, or they’re really driven to be helpful. Sometimes it’s more about sharing than seeking attention for yourself. But, whatever the case, you have to learn when it is helpful and when to dial it back.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        This COULD be true, and each person has to try to honestly self-assess. In my case, I truly am prone to piping in too often when it’s not really helpful, just because I get an ego stroke out of it. This is absolutely something to try and reign in.

      2. Aaaaaaanon.*

        I agree with this to an extent, but good leaders know (or are willing to learn) how to give other people enough room to add value.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, this: Leadership includes discerning when the added information is helpful vs. the “ego stroke” somebody mentioned above, or the “tic” to satisfy herself that the OP suggested in her reply. Neither of those are leadership: They are to satisfy the contributor’s [ego, insecurity, whatever], not to benefit the listener.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Ditto being helpful: It’s not helpful if it’s just extra information cluttering or derailing a situation. Discernment is crucial.

            And this is from somebody who is a) on the autism spectrum and already prone to overcontributing minutiae, and b) has a job that reinforces her tendency to store trivia. But it has to be used judiciously.

            I feel like there should be a variant of the is it relevant/necessary/kind query for this.

            1. Anonymoose*

              Oooooh I would love a job where I could get even more totally useless (to others, fascinating to me) info. I’m totes jelly! I recently thought about getting into library data science. EGADS, swooooon.

            2. College Career Counselor*

              Should have read all the way down before commenting. Ya got there first! :-)

          2. Aaaaaaanon.*

            > They are to satisfy the contributor’s [ego, insecurity, whatever], not to benefit the listener.

            Or worse, to get a competitive advantage over someone else in the room.

            1. Anon For This*

              Right. It can come from so many different places. Some are selfish and some are not.

              But I think it’s often a combination of both. You’re rewarded for being helpful so you associate helpfulness with an ego boost and then it can be hard to discern when you’re genuinely trying to help and when you just want that extra satisfaction thing. If that makes sense.

  2. Lil Fidget*

    Oh boy, I recognize some of myself in this. It can come from a lot of different places, including fundamentally insecurity – you don’t think you’re good enough if you’re not “on.” This has been a lifelong struggle for me but I think I’ve gotten better about squelching my inner Hermione over time. Shoutout and sympathies OP.

    1. Triplestep*

      The fact that you know it can come from insecurity bodes well for your overcoming this. My boss is obsessed with “importance” – she name drops, inflates, brags, and brings up other meetings in the meetings we’re in together (to show she goes to meetings with more important people I’m guessing). She constantly wants to show what she knows. She will buzzkill a sarcastic joke that a roomful of people is snickering about in order to show that she seriously knows about the topic.

      But most of all, she totally lacks self-awareness. There is no hope for her ever overcoming any of this, because she doesn’t see it, nor the insecurity it is born out of. Kudos to you for NOT being like my boss! And I guess I should be saying the same to the LW, who also seems to have a good handle on the problem.

  3. BadWolf*

    I’m there with you OP. It doesn’t help that I like to watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot of weird things…

    Hopefully you at least add related things. There is a person in my hobby group who wants to contribute to eeeeeverything. Sometimes I have to choke down a laugh at the tangential stories she jumps in. Usually it’s harmless, but sometimes it’s kind of gross.

    1. Anonymoose*

      Speaking of weird things. The other night my husband asked me what I was reading. I looked at him and said ‘ancient katana forging’. Because…..why wouldn’t I be reading that? It’s not like I actually do any sort of martial arts. *sigh* I wish I could say this was abnormal but it’s not. I really do think my iphone has made this behavior so much worse but i’m too addicted to stop learning anytime I get a random thought.

  4. I See Real People*

    I always thought of myself as a sponge of useless information, so like the OP, I get excited when some of this information can be put to use!

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      Ha, I’m the same way. I also have a freakish memory for dates, so I often have to resist the urge to not only share the information but also when I learned it and how/from whom.

      I think it comes from an internal need to cite my sources so that what I’m saying sounds reliable.

  5. Rock Prof*

    I feel like this describes pretty much every meeting with faculty ever. I personally have to fight off these urges all the time. I’ve found that if I go into meetings where I have explicitly told myself that I’d focus on listening I do a lot better.

    1. Safetykats*

      Another good strategy is to decide you get some limited number of comments per meeting. I had to do this with a staffer who was constantly jumping in on every topic, to the point that not only were others unwilling to compete (even when they knew more about a topic) but people were also starting to ask if her presence at certain meeting was really necessary. We agreed on a limit of 3 comments per meeting. It actually worked beautifully – her natural reaction was to try to “save” her comments for the best opportunity, and I think she learned a lot by actively listening. Before, I really think she wasn’t listening to anyone – just mentally leaping ahead to plan what she would say. Once that changes I think she developed a lot more respect for the knowledge base of everyone else in the room. I think they also developed more respect for her, since her contributions became more pertinent and insightful.

      Unfortunately, even if you really are the smartest person in the room, nobody wants to listen to one person dominate every topic. So it is important to figure out how to break the habit of compulsively needing to comment on everything.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yes, I commit to a set number of comments – no more than three – and just tell myself to write down other things that I wanted to say. If I haven’t made three comments yet I can see if something I’ve written down actually adds value versus me just trying to show off. I also have a hobby outside of work (writing) that lets me focus my controll-y know-it-all instincts since you get to voice every character and literally know it all. Venting those instincts there has helped me tone it down in other arenas. Socially, I focus on asking other people questions, listening carefully, and thanking them when they explain things to me as a way to keep myself in check.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Same here. I also set a limit for my comments in meetings. And honest self assessment showed me that it’s not about the public praise. If, in a meeting, I have something to add/ask and I’ve hit my limit, I’ll meet with my manager later. This has been really beneficial to my psyche and career.
        My manager knows that if I don’t have the answer to some obscure thing, I’d love a chance to find the details and solve the problems, so she will come directly to me with things to investigate and trouble shoot. So I don’t have to prove my worth and my skills at meetings. I get all kinds of opportunities through out the week.
        My last two reviews stated I was the manager’s go to person and I didn’t have to drive everyone else nuts!

      3. Traveling Teacher*

        Such a great suggestion, re: permitted # of comments.

        I have actually used this as a learning strategy with young students who had ADHD, in particular, with poker chips to hand over every time they contributed a thought. That visual and physical act of contributing a chip, which I then stacked on my table, was a good reminder for them about building a conversation, and I much prefer this to the infamous talking stick (plus, what a germ vector–ick!)

        Most adults can internalize the process, but I actually use it for myself by making a tiny mark in my notes. One in each corner of the page, then I’m done!

  6. BookCocoon*

    I related strongly to this, and I’m grateful that it’s something I recognized and curbed earlier in my life (around college). I grew up getting a strong message that my worth was tied to my achievement; e.g., I was in the gifted program and made straight As, my parents bragged about my academics frequently, and the one time I was on track to get a B in high school it was in Calculus 2 — which I was taking as a junior — and my mom said, “You’re going to get that grade up, right?” (I did.)

    It made me feel like I frantically needed to show off my knowledge in order to maintain my worth in the eyes of others. Once I had the opportunity to see a number of other people doing the same, and how annoying that was — and how much more I appreciated discovering someone’s intelligence and depth of knowledge when they hadn’t been flaunting it around — I was able to adjust my own behavior.

    1. Brillie*

      Yeah, I did this more when I was younger but have mostly grown out of it. For me, knowledge was all I had. I wasn’t an attractive younger person, I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t super funny, etc., etc. All I had was my brain, so I took all the chances to show people that I had *something* and wasn’t completely worthless.

      1. Justin*

        Ah yes, this life. I know it well.

        Therapy is helping me these days (not telling you what to do). Growing into full belief in my worth takes time, and I wish you all the same luck!

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh yeah, the digging into “but really what then” and “is that really true” is so incredible. Once you realize the rules you internalized and lived by, it’s so powerful. Those life driving rules often seem so much approachable when out in the open where the reasons mind can have at it. Therapy; so incredible.

      2. Positive Reframer*

        Were you also sought out by peers primarily when they needed you for some sort of trivia/group quiz? #storyofmylife

        1. Brillie*

          I mean, in high school/college, I was sought out for answers to homework and tests.

          Once I got out of academia, things got better.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I’m still salty that the primary person who sought me out for answers to homework and tests in high school is now a professor himself! So obviously he could have come up with those answers himself.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Realizing that trivia competitions were a thing was a revelation to my high school self! I ultimately became the captain of our quiz bowl team, and still like fielding a team at the local bar when they have quiz nights. It feels SO GOOD to just indulge my inner know-it-all without having to temper it with things like “sharing” and “not being too competitive”, especially on the quick-draw questions where you can win a free beer.

          1. Lindsay J*

            See, I do get too competitive for trivia.

            People get annoyed with me when I tell them to put their phones down (I don’t want to get disqualified), and if I know the answer 100%, I don’t take other people’s input which is apparently off-putting.

            I mostly just have a team with my boyfriend now.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Agree, it was the sight of someone else doing the same thing that made me realize I really needed to nip this in the bud myself. Of course now when I see people do it I tend to find that disproportionately annoying, since you’re most cringe-y about flaws you recognize and have tried to battle in yourself.

  7. Etak*

    I’m 100% this person and I’ve noticed I’ve been able to stop in my personal life without that moment of “They need to know i know!!” but I have trouble at work too

  8. A nony mouse for this*

    I recognise some of this behaviour too and I think it comes from a similar place to OP. My older brother will seize on the smallest thing he can connect to his own experience — like the OP wanting to shout ‘hey! I know this!’. He wants to contribute to everything. He will start talking over a movie with facts he’s learned from IMDB because he HAS to add something… I have indeed been guilty of similar behaviour. It’s not from a desire for attention, because I don’t really like that. I just want to seem valuable, useful and clever.

    I just have to accept the discomfort of keeping it in! I will write it down in my meeting notes, or tightly cross my fingers so I don’t forget it – then if it really is valuable I’ll remember it.

    Also you might have a problem that you are uncomfortable admitting you don’t know something or asking questions, which is the flip side of wanting to show you know things. The cleverest, most effective people I’ve seen at work ask a TON of questions and actively say “I don’t get it”. This is a Good Thing. I had to practice this, but it’s an excellent thing to do.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I think most people feel this urge, and it actually makes sense to want to teach others about things in which you are a recognized expert – as in, your degree or your career are actually focused on X thing. My issue is that I will do it for other topics in which I’ve done some casual reading or learned about one cool fact – which is when I really need to zip it and cede the floor to someone with *real* knowledge.

    2. Original Podcast-Asker*

      ” It’s not from a desire for attention, because I don’t really like that. I just want to seem valuable, useful and clever.”

      This is almost exactly how I feel, Nony. Thank you for articulating it so well and validating the odd duality I feel between wanting to contribute and not wanting attention.

      1. LadyKelvin*

        You are not alone. This is exactly how I feel too. Someday I hope to find a group of my like-minded people and just share cool facts. Because I’m awesome at trivia and I love random facts.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Haha I know I am flawed because while I do love to whip out a Cool Fact for any occasion, the thought of being in a whole group of other people doing this is … not appealing.

        2. Original Podcast-Asker*

          Did you know that the Kelvin is the unit of measurement for absolute zero? *goofy smile*

          But seriously, I am in.

          1. LadyKelvin*

            Yeah our dog is so cool she’s absolute zero :)
            Its what happens when two scientists get a dog.

      2. animaniactoo*

        Does it make a difference if you’re receiving praise or reward for being *you*, or for the thing you’ve done?

        I am good at being complimented for my accomplishments. It has been a really long struggle to stop being uncomfortable and squirming with praise or compliments directed at me for being me.

  9. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This could not have come at a better time. I am definitely this person and want to avoid it when I start my new job next week! Can’t wait to listen when I get home.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      I sympathize! I have an inner Hermione Granger/Amy Santiago (ha!) that really, really wants to give the answer when I know it (and sometimes when I don’t, because no one else knows either and the silence is getting awkward).

  10. Triple Anon*

    Sigh. I’m one of those people too. For me, it comes from a drive to contribute to the world, to make a positive difference. My solution was to start my own business and focus on that. I always feel frustrated when I’m working for someone else because I can’t contribute as much as I want to and there are times when I disagree with the decisions of those above me.

    As an employee, your duty is to be good at your job. That includes not doing more than is appropriate. If you want to contribute more, whether it’s knowledge or skills or tasks, talk to your manager about it. Tell them, “I really value my knowledge on this subject. I’d like to contribute more, but I want to remain helpful and respectful to my peers, especially those who are more senior. What would you suggest?”

    It’s a good problem to have. But you do have to keep it in check, or be strategic about how to express it, when you work for someone else.

    If you feel stifled, I highly recommend taking on something outside of work where you can use your knowledge. You could start a side business, write a book, join or start a group, speak at events, freelance, blog, all kinds of things. This will help to grow your career and hopefully open up doors so that, before long, you’ll be in a role where all that knowledge is needed.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      On your last point – for myself, as an exercise in humility, I tried to deliberately take up hobbies I wouldn’t be good at, so that I could cultivate a mindset of hushing up and trying to learn, rather than showing off. I do think it helped.

      1. Specialk9*

        Ooh clever! It’s like Doogie Houser taking up acting and hating it bc he wasn’t instantly brilliant, and then sticking with it anyway because it was good for him.

        /I’m old

        1. nonymous*

          off topic, but have you seen NPH in the new Lemony Snicket? Every so often in the middle of a Count Olaf scene, I think “Doogie!”

          /also old

  11. hambone*

    This struck close to home for me in terms of an innate desire to seek approval. I feel like I didn’t know what I liked when I was younger because I just wanted to like what my friends did and be accepted. Related, this episode made me consider the societal expectation that women are conditioned to seek male approval…it feels like there’s a lot to unpack here and be more cognizant of why this urge happens!

    1. hambone*

      …I left out what felt unspoken but now I see is unclear – that urge to say “I’m familiar with this thing!” for me feels like a carryover of those two experiences for me, personally. Not sure if OP has shared feelings on that.

  12. LadyKelvin*

    I sometimes have this problem for several reasons: 1. I am a woman in a male-dominated field (think usually <5% women at a gathering of my peers, almost none in anything higher than the lowest supervisory level) so I have had to work twice as hard to prove I can hold my own; 2. I come from a non-traditional background for my field, most people have solid backgrounds in X and I have very little background in X but a solid background in Y and have had no problems learning X but I definitely run into problems where people don't think I'm capable of excelling in my field; and 3. I'm naturally a Hermione type of person and I love to share knowledge. So I actually overcompensate a little around my coworkers because I know that they respect my abilities, but I also have to actively not spout information that everyone else would already know. Its difficult to balance and sometimes requires being able to read the room.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      That’s a very good observation on being a woman in a non-traditional field, and having a non-traditional background. I want to elaborate on this – I am in a more gender-balanced field, but I’m short and petite, and I sometimes feel as if I have to be a little loud and know-it-all to counter the “cute little sister” or “adorable little mascot” effect. I do NOT have an undersized brain to complement my cute little body, thanks! As I get older, with the consequent gravitas, I get this less and less, fortunately. But when I was young and petite and baby-faced, oy.

      I think maybe if you’re perceived, through no fault of your own – due to gender, ethnicity, class background, age, whatever – to have less authority or be less smart or knowledgeable *innately* – there might be a tendency to want to overcompensate, and that’s very understandable. Sometimes you NEED to overcompensate just to be thought “average.”

      1. Specialk9*

        To you and LadyKelvin, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad strategy (done mindfully) in those contexts. I have a kinda-mentee who is brilliant and hard working, and a young 20s petite very-pretty woman — and I can literally see people dismiss her. My advice to her was to find one thing to say, confidently, at each meeting. Basically elbow her way to the table and refuse to be shoved back to the dragged-in chairs at the back for the people who are supposed to just listen quietly.

        All to say, we’re all balancing so many different ideas and trying to figure out what works.

    2. Original Podcast-Asker*


      This is so great to hear. I am in a very male-dominated industry (think something like roadway engineering) and I definitely believe that this is part of it.

      1. jo*

        I was wondering about this, and also about whether your varied background might also be part of it? Based on your letter, it sounds like you haven’t been pursuing your current career path your entire adult life, as perhaps some of your work peers have done. So it wouldn’t be surprising if you feel the need to show that just because you don’t have those years of accumulated specialized knowledge doesn’t mean you don’t know a lot of things!

        I am woman, hear me roar ALL the things!!!

        Whatever is going on, I hope you start to feel better about it soon.

    3. Triple Anon*

      Me too. Sometimes I’ve driven a big truck. But I’m getting better at that cool self-assurance thing. The more you just show your skills without reacting to other people, without showing any kind of insecurity, the more seriously you’ll be taken.

  13. Aaaaaaanon.*

    The tricky part is having a colleague who does this a lot (and also has some other problematic communication habits), which creates an unnatural spotlight on what they know, which makes some people in the room assume that they’re the go-to and no one else has expertise on that topic. My colleague who does this constantly talks about how terrible it is to have an ego or be a self-promoter, but they’re completely unable to figure out that the way they communicate crowds out their colleague’s contributions.

    We’re dealing with this right now and it’s turning into a bit of an arms race – it’s forcing the rest of our team to be pushier in meetings than they would normally feel comfortable with, or discouraging people to the point where they check out completely.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, piping up with a contribution after every point is something that only one person in the room can do, if the meeting is going to end at all on time.

      1. Aaaaaaanon.*

        It’s a bit worse than piping up after every point – it includes long, derailing monologues to respond to someone else’s point, as well as basically repeating what someone else says without verbally or non-verbally indicating that they’re in agreement/whatever with the person they’re leeching off of.

        I’m at the point where I don’t care whether this is about my colleague’s unmet need for recognition…it’s so persistent that it’s easier to believe that they’re being a malicious, hypocritical gunner incapable of operating in a team environment.

        1. Misha*

          Thank you! I deal with the exact same sort of person at work and I cannot understand why she makes everything about her.

          In every meeting and in every conversation, she interrupts someone else so she can go off on a tangent sharing what she knows, or really, just to talk about herself. I want to hear my other colleagues elaborate on an idea or further explain their point but instead it turns into yet another monologue. I am thoroughly impressed by the commenters here who realize they do this and are interested in ways change this behavior. It is truly off-putting.

          1. Aaaaaaanon.*

            The commenters who admit to doing this really impress me with their level of insight.

            I don’t know how to nudge another adult with such ingrained behaviour towards that level of insight. Either they’re:
            (A) aware of what they’re doing, understand that it’s wrong, but need help to build better habits
            (B) totally unaware of what they’re doing and/or its affect on group dynamics
            (C) aware of what they’re doing and adamantly DGAF

            As a manager, I would have been happy to deal with (A). (B) can be turned into (A) under some circumstances, but most (B) and (C) cases scare me because they both risk being toxic employees who are impossible to remediate and risk messing up the careers of colleagues who won’t out-monologue them.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Or (D) they want/need whatever they’re getting out of this behavior more than they want to stop doing it.

          2. Specialk9*

            Misha, have you started running through scripts on how to talk with her about it, calmly? Cuz that’s a situation made for that if there ever was.

        2. only acting normal*

          Aargh. Watched my micromanager (MM) do this yesterday. “A” called a meeting about his teapot modelling project with lots of component modellers. I gave a quick brief on my handle model, expecting A to ask for any expansion on details they were interested in (as they did for other models). Instead MM jumped in and gave a monologue, longer than my brief, on the minutiae of the maths behind the model. Meeting moves on… turns out A was mostly focussed on spouts. *sigh*

  14. dr_silverware*

    This is a really interesting one! I do actually have advice for the caller. I’d say, it takes a stronger willpower than I have to just squash that kind of urge–I keep thinking, oh, I have to bring up x or y, and it’s not possible to remind myself to just stop. So distraction, like Alison mentions, would be a good idea.

    What works best for me is to fulfill that urge but in a different way. So, write in my notebook, ” :) I know Sally! Remember to email her later to say hi,” or “excited to hear about X project,” or even just a smiley face.

    It sounds like your brain’s constantly going “oh, I have to remember this. Oh, I have to remember this. Oh, I have to remember this” and rehearsing the words over and over. So redirecting the urge can help–“No, brain, I don’t have to remember this, pay attention to something different”–and so can fulfilling it. “Ok, brain, you did great by remembering that thing, I wrote it down, you did it, you’re done!”

    1. Lehigh*

      I love this insight!

      Related but somewhat tangentially, I find I have am much more comfortable and able to focus during lectures, sermons, etc. when I take notes–and I think it actually has to do with this kind of need to respond, with getting to a certain point and just not being at all comfortable with taking more information in without letting any of my own thoughts out. I don’t know why I’m like that.

      For me I don’t think it’s a need for attention or desire to provide value, as other has mentioned it is for them, since literally writing down my own thoughts to myself seems to take care of it. Maybe just a quirk of the way my brain works?

      Either way, I had never connected it to the ability to avoid hogging conversations, so thank you for putting it together for me!

      1. dr_silverware*

        I’m glad it clicked for you! One of the advantages to me of using a notebook as a “second brain” is that my “first brain” trusts it…so if I write something down I trust I’ll remember it, and I won’t have to keep it in the front of my brain when that processing power could be better-used for other things.

        I also can get really strong impulses to say things, and the only way it stops is if I get those words out of my phonological loop–that place your brain goes when you’re trying to rehearse words or remember something in the short term by saying it over and over.

    2. jo*

      Also, if you’re in meetings with a pen always in your hand, continually writing something or other, it can delay your ability to speak, just long enough to avoid an outburst! By the time your mouth catches up with what’s going on, the conversation will have moved on or someone else will have jumped in to say something, because your hand will still be busy recording whatever ultra-fascinating thought you just had.

      Or maybe this only works well if you have trouble writing and speaking at the same time, like I do.

  15. Liz Lemon*

    I love these podcasts so much. Alison, if you ever felt like extending them a bit—around the 30 minute mark, I’d be very supportive of that. :)

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      Me too! And, I really like that you share the printed letter in the podcast reminder. I’m going to listen to the podcast regardless, but it’s great for organizing whether or not I’m going to listen straight away or later in the week.

  16. Alexis Haselberger*

    When listening to this episode, I realized I had a suggestion for the caller that has helped me in the past. I also have the urge to “share what I know”, although I don’t think it comes from a place of wanting to prove myself. In any case, when I’m in a meeting and I have an urge to share something that is tangentially related, I just make an actual note of it during the meeting. This way, I can still pay attention because I’m not concerned about forgetting the thing I wanted to say, and then I can decide later if the information is actually relevant to anyone in the meeting and let them know if so. (Sometimes the info is helpful and sometimes not, but it’s usually not helpful to EVERYONE in the meeting.)

    1. Original Podcast-Asker*

      That is very good advice, Alexis. Thank you for taking the time. I bet I would even feel satisfied running home to my partner and telling him all the things I wanted to say in a meeting or event but couldn’t/shouldn’t. He would totally listen to me bounce up and down because I knew something/someone/had an idea.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        Yes! I too love this suggestion!

        I feel the same way you do in many respects re. having a lot of (imo, relevant and useful) information to share about work stuff and not wanting to overdo it. I think I’m pretty successful at not over-contributing/showing off my opinions and knowledge, but I certainly recognize it in myself and it’s something I notice myself not-doing, not something I not-do by sheer instinct. I think that taking notes/writing down what I want to say instead of saying it is such a useful suggestion. I LOVE taking notes even when it’s not really for any specific purpose – wondering if you do too, Original Podcast-Asker?

        In my case I feel like my information sharing urge is because I get very excited about the information itself, not exactly by the idea of me specifically contributing something valuable. I’m a little different in that regard – I don’t love being the center of attention at the time it’s happening, but I like it in retrospect. So the note-taking, and telling my partner about it afterwards, is still satisfying to me because I get to “use” the information.

    2. KimberlyR*

      When I have this urge in meetings, I stop myself from talking by writing it down as well. I also continually take notes, as in:
      Problem is this!
      Did they try X, Y, Z? (As the person continues to talk-because I did not jump in-I find that X and Y were tried and failed so I cross those out)
      Further points in trying Z

      I will even write detailed notes to get it all out of my head. By the time I do let myself speak, I have a solid Thing To Contribute. I realize that not all people are note-takers but I’m the weirdo who liked lecture classes.

      Side note: I wanted to write this comment so bad that I could barely stand to scroll down to someone else who had the same idea. I can’t keep my thoughts to myself either.

      Also, tangent: what if you kept a blog or some sort of writing about the odd/weird things you know or research based on conversations? Not a blog that wants followers so much as a place to get your thoughts out.

  17. smoke tree*

    I have a similar know-it-all tendency, and personally I find it helpful to channel it into actually useful activities like training new employees and developing our documentation. I have also had to train myself not to jump in when my input is really not needed.

    1. Original Podcast-Asker*

      Ahhh I totally am the one who documents processes and policies. I never thought about channeling some of that energy into making training materials. Thank you for this advice!

  18. Elena*

    That powerful desire for validation – especially in a domain that your self-esteem rests on, such as your knowledge or competence – sounds very familiar. And it’s great that thr writer is working on it.

    I believe only few people are exempt from feeling it to some extent: the naturally charismatic, who get it effortlessly (Frank Underwood) and the completely internally motivated, who don’t need it (Howard Roark).

    I don’t think envying or chasing either extreme is realistic, but learning to read social cues; testing an audience’s receptiveness before displaying; and actively developing of internal motivation – “I’m competent regardless of whether this person thinks I am” – are the keys to managing that desire and to building up a peer group that will supply a reasonable amount of validation, support and respect.

  19. Data Analyst*

    Oh man, I have this. For me, it has to do with self-worth, approval, and anxiety. In my case, it came from growing up in a chaotic environment where my mother was unduly invested in me getting good grades and being smart, but didn’t do anything to help me learn good study habits, just berated me when I screwed up. So knowing things was one of the ways I could get approval. And then my self-esteem is so fragile that if someone else knows or aspires to know the same things as me it feels like somehow they’re encroaching on something that is “mine”. So I spend time either reassuring myself (you are smart, you have an advanced degree, so and so was impressed by you) or seeking out those hits of reassurance from others by showing off in the way you describe.
    Anyway, it all recently came to a head and I’m now in a treatment program for anxiety, and I get to do exposure therapy where I do things like deliberately tell someone an incorrect fact, and then sit with the anxiety that comes from it, until it subsides. I think it’s really helping! Okay now I suppose I should actually listen to the podcast and see what Alison has to say.

    1. Specialk9*

      That sounds so hard. I give you a lot of credit for working on it. Must take a lot of bravery to start, and more every time.

  20. JumpyJess*

    Came to the comments hopeful of seeing Hermione Granger references; left satisfied.

    1. Original Podcast-Asker*

      I know who she is but I have never read the books or seen the movies. Sounds like my spirit character indeed!

  21. Hermione poser*

    I have this problem too…. the hermione in me likes to pop out all the time.

  22. Cassie*

    I have two thoughts, both of which could be way off base. Firstly, do you find you are impulsive in general? The way you described how hard it was to stop yourself made me think it could be ADD or something similar. You will probably know whether this seems like a possibility.

    The other is another way of looking at the thing with your father. Instead of, or maybe in addition to, copying off your father, it could be a reflection of how hard you felt you had to work to get recognition from your father. Did you feel like you had to show off for your father? You sound like maybe you’ve already had some therapy, but if not, it could be worth a try if you think this could be a possibility.

    1. Original Podcast-Asker*

      Hi, thanks for asking. In general, no, I don’t believe I have impulse control issues. Of course I have times when my will power lacks like when deciding on dessert or trying to walk away from a pair of shoes at the store. I don’t feel that I necessarily had to show off for my father but I do feel that I had to make sure he knew I was smart enough in order to counteract his bizarre need to teach lessons. I’ve recently realized that he doesn’t do this to my brothers as often as he does it to me which is hard to admit.

  23. Anti-Dentite*

    I REALLY dislike when people have this urge. I have encountered people like this from Pre-School onward and I’ve always been quite annoyed (I usually provide my knowledge when asked). I don’t usually believe they’re actually more knowledgeable or smarter. I usually assume they have lack of self control or are attention seeking.

    1. Original Podcast-Asker*

      Well hopefully reading some of these comments changes your mind on your last sentence. I’ve not gotten the sense that my compatriots struggling with this issue generally lack self control or are seeking attention. For the record, I really dislike this trait as well. That’s why I wrote in.

    2. PNWFlowers*

      TOTALLY agree- I had so much second hang cringe reading this. And whether or not people acknowledge they’re being attention seeking, that’s completely how it comes across. Or with zero ability to read social cues and norms. When I encounter people like I rarely view them as knowledgeable or smarter, usually it reads as naïve or insecure. OP, I hope you invest in some coaching or therapy to help deal with this- I wish you luck.

    3. WeevilWobble*

      Similarly, I assume that people who trash those asking for advice with no constructive feedback are self-righteous jerks.

      I’d prefer an attention seeker over a jerk who would post this any day.

      1. PNWFlowers*

        A) Yes, total jerk here. You nailed it.

        B) It is constructive feedback to understand how other people experience your eagerness to be seen as so helpful! so clever! so necessary! – it’s absolutely not coming across that way to other adults. I would appreciate that feedback. But you know, you do you, with the throwing insults thing & tantrum.

        1. Lehigh*

          Nobody, neither the OP nor any of the commenters that have struggled with the same issue, has suggested that this is a great trait that comes across well to their peers. Yet most people have been able to make their suggestions in a kind and constructive way.

    4. Positive Reframer*

      Hmm, interesting. So you hoard your knowledge and information and make other people seek you out before you are willing to share it? What makes your information so special that it deserves to be petitioned for, awaiting your desire to dispense it? There are uncharitable ways to interpret all behaviours. Hopefully being exposed to the way that the other side of people think about and struggle with this issue will help give you a little more patience. We don’t know the demons that others face.

      I guess its kinda like cat affection vs dog affection. They are both nice in their own ways but they can get really annoying in the wrong amounts and circumstances.

      1. Anti-Dentite*

        I don’t believe my knowledge is more special than others, I would rather just relay it in the proper venues at the appropriate times as often as I can. Example: Director is speaking about the background of teapot analysis (I know a lot about the topic), instead of butting in during his speech with my hand flailing and yelling oo oo oo pick me!.. I wait until he says: “What are your thoughts?, Do you have anything to add? etc”.

        I wasn’t intending to be “a jerk”, I was providing my insight on how it comes across to me personally with hopes that this was contributing to the different angles that one might see this kind of habit.

  24. V*

    First off, kudos for being self aware enough to recognize this behavior. I used to have very similar patterns of behavior so I relate so much.

    Like the caller, I am a woman working in a male dominated field and this often felt the need to prove myself. What I eventually realized was doing this actually undermined me- people who are smart and competent don’t have to take every opportunity to shove their knowledge in your face because they know they’ll be able to showcase it when really needed. In my experience people who are the loudest/first to cut in with a comment, are usually the ones with the least helpful insight.

    I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, you definitely come across as accomplished and intelligent, but try reminding yourself that of you interrupt all the time to show how smart you are most people are going to think you’re all fluff and no substance.

  25. Nacho*

    I’m a little like this too. I can usually manage to keep it in-control, but it does mean I talk over a lot of people in meetings.

  26. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Aside from other reasons people have this urge, it’s just very human to think, “Wow, a neat thing! I know about this neat thing!” I don’t think it’s an innate flaw to have the urge. It’s how the person responds that counts. From what you’ve shared, you sound like a respectful person who cares for other people’s boundaries, and that’s what matters.

    In addition to what people have shared, something I say (when it’s appropriate) is “Oh, interesting,” or nodding my head in a way that shows I want them to continue sharing. Then, once they’re finished, I can say something like, “I feel the same way and was very curious to see if your perspective matched mine,” or whatever’s appropriate. Of course, in a meeting, I might just make a note for myself or nod to show I’m listening. But if it’s a conversation, channeling the energy into supporting the other person to continue to share can be helpful.

    I’m really glad you wrote in, this is a fascinating topic!

  27. Clever Girl*

    My boss is like that all the time, except he doesn’t suppress it like the OP. It gets really irritating, and also it’s hard for any of us to take him seriously because it feels like he’s always trying to establish how smart he is or how many connections he has, which makes him look insecure. At this point we just make eye contact and laugh when he practically jumps out of his skin to let everyone know in a meeting that he knows someone who was mentioned because their kids play soccer together, and they go WAY back!

  28. Mom MD*

    I’d let the plant issue go. She was asked to take care of a bug infested plant for a prolonged period of time and it died. The office really shouldn’t have infested plants around anyway.

  29. CM*

    This used to be me too! The best advice I got was, before you say anything, ask yourself: is it helpful?

    That simple rule went a really long way for me. I still use it. So I talk less but, surprise, people listen to me more.

    1. Triple Anon*

      Right. And ask questions before giving information. That’s helped me to get along with people better. And if you really can’t help talking about a certain subject, bring it up as though you think the other person already knows about it.

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